Libcom's organising toolkit - guides to organising at work, in your local area and more.

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Workplace organising

A set of tips and advice guides for organising in your workplace. From basic principles and getting started, to making demands, taking action such as strikes, and winning them.

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Workplace organising.pdf2.03 MB

Organising at work: introduction

A basic introduction on why we should organise at work, and a few tips on how to get started.

Almost everyone in this society is underpaid and over-worked. Many temps, contract and casual workers have very few rights, and permanent workers are still always under the threat of redundancy. Many people are massively exploited and ill-treated, and in Britain over 20,000 people are killed at or by their work each year*. Millions more suffer stress, depression, anxiety and are injured.

The indignity of working for a living is well-known to anyone who ever has. Democracy, the great principle on which our society is supposedly founded, is thrown out the window as soon as we punch the time clock at work. With no say over what we produce, or how that production is organised, and with only a small portion of that product's value finding its way into our wages, we have every right to be pissed off at our bosses.

At work in a capitalist society, we are forced to labour in return for a wage. Employers hire workers, and pay us less than the value of work we do. The surplus amount is taken from us and turned into capital - profit for shareholders and corporate expansion. Thus all workers are exploited. Consequently, we all have a shared interest in getting a bigger share of the fruits of our labour, as well as in winning better working conditions and shorter working hours.

We can do this by organising at work. Workplace organising on is a resource to assist all workers in improving our jobs in the here and now, and we also believe that by organising to fight, we build the seeds of a new world - not based on capitalist exploitation but on co-operation between workplace collectives where production is democratically decided by worker/consumer councils and working hours are slashed. Harmful or useless industries, such as arms manufacturing, or the banking and insurance industrikes, could be eliminated.

The real essentials, like food, shelter, and clothing, could be produced by everyone working just a few hours each week. Environmentally destructive industries purely concerned with profit, such as fossil fuel power plants could be converted to use clean, renewable energy sources.

Building this better world, and counteracting the day to day drudgery of contemporary wage-slavery we think can best be done using direct action in the workplace. Direct action is any form of action that cripples the boss's ability to make a profit and makes them cave in to the workers' demands. Different ways of taking action are outlined here.

All of the tactics discussed on this site depend for their success on solidarity, on the coordinated actions of a large number of workers. Individual acts of sabotage offer little more than a fleeting sense of revenge, which may admittedly be all that keeps you sane on a bad day at work. But for a real feeling of collective empowerment, there's nothing quite like direct action by a large number of disgruntled workers to make your day.

Article written by and combined with an edited article by the Industrial Workers of the World

* Estimated at 21,663 in 2001. Sources: CCA, TUC, Hazards Campaign 2002

Organising your workplace: getting started

You're working, or just started work somewhere where there is no active collective workers' organisation. What can you do to get organised? This guide will help you get started.

Nowadays many workplaces have no active workers' organisation. Depending on whereabouts you are in the world and what sector you work in there may or may not be much of a trade union presence. And even if there is it may just be a skeleton organisation which only represents workers with individual problems, and is unable to win demands of management. Or worse, it could be actively in cahoots with management against the workers.

Hardly, surprisingly, therefore that one of the most frequently asked questions by workers is - "What can be done at my workplace to improve things? It seems impossible, the bosses are too strong."

We would suggest that the following should be considered:

Ask questions and listen to the answers

Where do you begin? Some people when they first feel that they have been treated unfairly fly into a rage or start loudly crusading against the boss. This can be dangerous. Management jealously guards its authority in the workplace, and when you begin to question authority, you become a threat. In most workplaces, from the moment you begin to question authority, you become a troublemaker in management’s eyes. If you have never before made any waves where you work, you may be shocked, hurt or angered by how quickly management turns against you. This is a good reason to be discrete when you begin to talk to others.

Talk to your fellow workers

Ask them what they think about what’s happening at work. What do they think about the problems you’re concerned about? Listen to what others have to say. Get their views and opinions. Most people think of an organiser as an agitator and rabble-rouser (and there are times when an organiser must be those things), but a good organiser is first of all one who asks good questions and listens well to others. Having listened well, you should be able to express not only your own views and feelings, but also those of your colleagues. The main concerns could be pay, but this isn't always the case. Sometimes, their concerns can be reactionary, such as keeping immigrant workers out, so you will need to be aware that not all concerns are necessarily progressive.

Take note

Keep a record of workers' concerns, and any significant incidents at your workplace such as an accident, a disciplinary or even threatening behaviour by a manager.

Learn about the past

Try and find out what other attempts, if any, have been made to organise the workers. It may be that there was once a union but it has collapsed.

Do some general reading around organising in the workplace and the lessons people have learned. Our workplace activity tag has dozens of accounts of organising. If any issues come up as part of your organising, you should also feel free to ask for any assistance in our organise forum.

Try to find allies

Almost inevitably there will be some people who are more concerned about the problems we face than others, and a few of those people will want to do something about it. Those few people now form the initial core of your "organisation". You might ask the two most interested people to have coffee or lunch with you, introduce them to each other, and then ask, "What do you think about this?" If they are indeed ready to do something and not just complain, then you are almost ready to begin organising.

Map your workplace

Knowledge is power. Or at least it is the beginning of power. You will want to know everything you can about your workplace and your employer. This will be a long term, on-going process of education.
Try and find out as much as you can about the company you're working for. Does it have more than one factory or shop? Is it a public company, how many people work for it, who owns it? Companies have to do publish the accounts, so getting hold of these from the relevant agency (such as Companies House in the UK) can be extremely useful. Try and build up a picture of the firm and people who work for it - for example, an increasing problem is that workers are 'off the cards' and not working legally. Some workers may have problems with their immigration status.

You should begin your research with your department. Management has long understood the value of identifying informal work groups, their natural organisers, and their weak links. In fact, one of the main thrusts of management training is to develop strategies to alter the psychology of the workplace.

For example, the multi-national United Parcel Service has developed its psychological manipulation techniques into a fine art. The UPS managers’ training manual, entitled Charting Spheres of Influence, shows how to map the workplace to identify the informal work groups, isolate natural organisers or instigators in these groups, exploit the weak links, and in the end, break up the groups if they can’t be used to management’s advantage.

While most companies have not developed their techniques into the fine Orwellian art that UPS has, many do use some of the same methods. Have outspoken workers, instigators or organisers been transferred, promoted into management or singled out for discipline? Are work groups broken up and rearranged periodically? Has the layout of the workplace been arranged to make communication between workers difficult? 1

Do you get to walk around on your job? Who does? Who doesn’t? Are certain people picked on or disciplined by management in public? How does this affect the rest of the workforce? Do you feel you are always under surveillance? You get the point. All of the above can be used to break up unity and communication between workers in your workplace. Incidentally, this training does not make our employers invincible, or make our efforts any less worthwhile (despite all the training their management had received, UPS workers won a mass strike in August 1997).

Let’s say that you have an important message to communicate, but you don’t have the time or resources to reach every one of your fellow workers. If you can reach the natural organisers in the informal work groups and get them on your side, you can bet that the word will get around to everyone. Once organisers have been identified and agree to co-operate, it is possible to develop a network which can exert considerable power and influence.

Informal work groups also have the advantage of creating certain loyalties among their members. You can draw on this loyalty to figure out unified strategies for problems, and take advantage of people’s natural tendency to stick up for those who are close to them.

Besides working with the group organisers, it is important to draw in the loners too. More than likely, their apathy, isolation, or maybe anti-union ideas stem from personal feelings of powerlessness and fear. If collective action can be pulled off successfully and a sense of security established through the group’s action, fear and feelings of impotence can be reduced.

If you have got a particularly tough character in your workplace who seriously threatens unity, don’t be afraid to use the social pressures that work groups can bring to bear to get that person back in line. This applies to supervisory personnel too, especially the supervisor who likes to think he or she is everyone’s pal.

The balance of power

The bottom line for this type of workplace organisation is to tilt the balance of power in the workers’ favour. It can win grievances for example. If grievances remain individual problems or become the responsibility of union officials, the natural organisation and loyalty that exist among work groups is lost. Chances are that the grievance is lost too.

However, if the work groups can be used to make a show of unity, the threat that the work process could be disrupted can be enough to force management into a settlement. Grievances can only be won when management understand that a grievance is no longer the concern of an individual, but instead has become the concern of all, and that problems lie ahead unless it is resolved.

Starting organising


When the time is right hold a meeting of those you have identified as being interested in getting organised. Do not be surprised if some workers do not turn up, don't get disappointed. The meeting should be as open as possible and discuss all issues which concern workers. The most obvious concern will be how to get the mass of workers involved. Every person who attends the meeting should be expected to see if there are other workers who can be got involved. Stress the importance of ensuring that management doesn't get to know about what's happening.


You and colleagues may decide that you want to try to join an official trade union and get recognition with your employer. You should think hard about this form of action, as it may or may not be appropriate depending on your place of work. Workplaces with high staff turnover and lots of agency workers, for example, will be unlikely to be able to maintain a functional union organisation. Similarly, a union will only be able to win from management what you and your colleagues are able to obtain by your actions. So ultimately what counts is what action you are prepared to take collectively, rather than the union. And joining in official union will tie you into official procedures and labour laws which may be highly restrictive in terms of what action they permit you to take.


At some point a leaflet will need to be produced and either distributed secretly at work or by friends when the workers are leaving the workplace. These actions will undoubtedly bring to management's attention that some workers are involved in trying to organise.


When it is felt appropriate (which could be a period of a few weeks to many months) another larger meeting of all interested workers will need to be organised. Use the meeting to draw up a list of grievances and demands. The meeting will need to elect spokespersons to approach management.


If you are going to embark on some form of campaign, you may want to try to get support, especially practical support from outside your workplace. There may be local community groups, church groups, political organisations, anarchist groups etc which may be able to assist with practical initiatives such as leaflet production, a place to meet, people to help picket, etc.


Don't allow negotiations with bosses take place behind closed doors. Keep all meetings transparent.

It won't be easy

Be sure that the workers know that their actions may lead to the threat of dismissal and/or dismissal. Never con workers into believing it will be easy. Discuss what this would mean if all or some workers are dismissed as this will require a decision to either strike and/or occupy the workplace. The situation in countries where unions are outlawed is different and it will be impossible for workers to approach management. In such circumstances, sabotage of production may be appropriate.
Read more about taking different kinds of action at work...

Write history

Keep a record of you attempts at organising - workers struggles are so rarely recorded that valuable experience is being lost and workers have to go through the same problems. Many of them could be avoided. Feel free to post your account to our workplace activity tag .

This article was updated significantly by in 2012. Originally it was edited by libcom in 2005 from articles by the Industrial Workers of the World and another from an original article in Revolutions Per Minute issue 1, in 1996, as then produced by the members of the Colin Roach Centre, updated in February 2003.

Organising at work: some basic principles

The following is a list of what successful organisers say are the most important principles to remember:

Question Authority

Organising begins when people question authority. Someone asks, "What are they doing to us? Why are they doing it? Is it right?" Encourage people to ask, "Who is making the decisions, who is being forced to live with the decisions, and why should that be so?" People should not accept a rule or an answer simply because it comes from the authorities, whether that authority be the government, the boss, the union - or you. An effective organiser encourages their fellow workers to think for themselves.

Talk One-to-One

Almost every experienced activist agrees that "The most important thing about organising is personal one-to-one discussion." Leaflets are necessary, meetings are important, rallies are wonderful, but none of them will ever take the place of one-on-one discussion. Frequently, when you have simply listened to one of your fellow workers and heard what is on his or her mind, you have won them over because you are the only one who will listen. When you talk to Linda at the next desk and overcome her fears, answer her questions, lift her morale, invite her to the meeting or take her to the rally - that is what organising is all about.

Find the Natural Organisers

Every workplace has its social groupings of colleagues and friends. Each group has its opinion makers, its natural organisers, its instigators. They are not always the loudest or most talkative, but they are the ones the others listen to and respect. You will have gone a long way if you win over these natural organisers.

Get People Involved in Activity

Life is not a school room and people do not learn simply by going to meetings or reading leaflets. Most people learn, change, and grow in the process of action. Will you take this leaflet? Will you pass it on to your friend? Will you sign this petition? If you want to develop new organisers, get your colleagues involved in the organising.

We Are the Union!

The point of organising is not only to get individuals involved, but to join them together in a solidarity conscious group. We want to create a group which sees itself as a whole: Will you come to the meeting? Can we get the whole department to visit the boss together? Can we count on all of you on the picket line?

Activities Should Escalate Over Time

Ask people to become involved in activities of increasing commitment and difficulty. Are you willing to wear a union badge? Will you vote for a strike? Are you prepared to stand on a picket line? Are you willing to be arrested? Some union campaigns have included hundreds of people willing to go to jail for something they believed in. For many of them it started with that first question, "Will you take this leaflet?"
Read more about taking direct action at work...

Confront Management

Organising is about changing power relationships, the balance of forces between management and workers. Confrontation with the employer has to be built into the escalating activities. If people are not willing to risk upsetting the boss, they won’t win.

Win Small Victories

Most movements, from a small group in one workplace to massive social protests grow on the basis of small victories. The victories give us confidence that we can do more. They win us new supporters who now realise that "you can beat the boss". With each victory the group becomes more confident and therefore, more capable of winner larger victories.

Be Prepared For Setbacks

Nothing runs smoothly in life, and organising is no exception. If it doesn’t succeed at first, be patient. Circumstances always change with time, new people come and go. Perhaps in a few months time your fellow workers will be more interested than they are at present. Sooner or later your employer will do something which will help that process.

Don’t Forget The Outside World

Conflicts between workers and their employers have a large influence on the confidence of other workers to stand up for themselves. It is in our interests to build links and networks of support with workers employed in other companies and industries, for through standing together we will greatly increase our ability to win more control over our lives.

Produce Your Own Publicity

This is the best way of getting your message across, but don’t forget to let your fellow workers get involved in its production.
Read some tips on publicity and media...

Have A Sense of Humour

Don’t be deadly serious in everything that you do: organising can and should be fun. Use cartoons, songs, jokes and stories. Try and relate your publicity not just to the harshness of reality but also to your aspirations and desires.

Organising is Everything

Organisation need not be overly formal or structurally top heavy, but it must be there. A telephone tree and a mailing list may be all the organisation that you need, but if those are what you need then you must have them. Make sure your organisation is directly democratic, and any specialised positions you have, such as secretary, are instantly recallable. The last twenty years have supplied many examples of reform movements which fought hard, made some gains and then disappeared, simply because they didn’t stay organised. As one union organiser, Bill Slater, says, "Only the organised survive."
Read more general organising tips...

Don’t Organise Alone

Contact the Industrial Workers of the World, or other radical workers and join up with other working people who will be more than willing to help you. The IWW, or other libertarian groups can also provide resources which will be of vital importance in any organising drive, no matter how small. Together we can do the things that we cannot do alone.

Edited by libcom from an article by the Industrial Workers of the World.

Dealing with bullying at work guide

Advice and tips on how to survive bullying and intimidation in the workplace, and ways of dealing with individually, legally, or collectively.

Cuts in staffing and resources, increasing workloads, performance related pay: all have made work more pressurised. The University of Manchester says bullying accounts for up to half of all employment stress. The few studies done show the majority of incidents are by bosses, but it's still important to support people being bullied by work 'mates'. Call it what you will: harassment, aggression, coercive management, intimidation, or things seen as 'just a joke' - all are common labels for what is really bullying. Racial or sexual harassment, or that based on sexuality or disability, may also take the form of bullying. Bullying is any long-standing aggression, physical or psychological, by an individual or group directed against someone who is unable to defend themselves. It is rarely confined to insulting remarks or open aggression, but can be subtle, devious, often taking place when there are no witnesses, and be difficult to confront for those whose confidence and self esteem have been worn down. It is a myth that only quiet or 'weak' people will be victimised since a bully will also pick on the popular or successful if they're perceived as a threat. Widespread bullying by bosses is hardly surprising in world which is structured hierarchically - the rich living off the working class, men dominating women, adults abusing children... Work is similarly organised, to control the behaviour of workers with management positions providing the perfect situation for bullying.

Bullies tend to surround themselves with supporters, spies and 'court jesters' while cultivating allies in senior management. The bully will create rivalries in the workforce, as people anxiously fight to stay in their favour, creating a divisive culture which brings out the worst in people. To be 'in' with a bully can seem the best way to survive, and cover any feelings of inadequacy by displacing these on to others, through siding with the bully's aggression. But as long as a bully feels that they can get away with it they will continue.

A living nightmare
Being bullied makes people feel vulnerable, isolated and frustrated, and may lead to stress related illnesses like constant headaches, loss of weight, ulcers or kidney problems. It affects relationships with family and friends:

"Bill gradually became quiet and withdrawn. I knew that it had something to do with work, but whenever I tried to make him talk about it, he became very irritable. He lost weight, too, and lost interest in everything. He would sleep for hours on end... for three years there was no laughter in our house."

Those being bullied often feel ashamed and that they must have done something to deserve it, which opens them to more bullying.

Spotting bullying
Spotting what's going on early puts you in a much stronger position. Problems often arise when a person is new or recently promoted. The earliest sign is that a relationship at work doesn't feel right: is your boss responding to you in a different way; do you feel put down by belittling remarks or continual criticisms of your work, even though the standard hasn't changed; are you beginning to feel that supposed mistakes are all your fault? Other signs are constant assessment, useless errands, false complaints, persistent humiliation in front of others, and a boss's inability to admit they could be wrong.

A bully will try to get rid of someone they perceive as a threat; not promoting able people, taking credit for others' ideas or work, or alternatively not giving enough work or responsibility and then claiming laziness or lack of initiative.

In dealing with bullying it is important not to be undermined and try to remain positive, though this is easier said than done. Try to take responsibility for your feelings and behaviour, keep things in perspective and don't let it dominate your life. However deflated you feel, make time to do stuff you enjoy. Talk things over with friends, many of them will have had a similar experience. You could try self-defence or assertiveness training, as this may help you cope better.

Initial tactics: stand firm against verbal attacks - tell the bully you won't tolerate personal remarks. Keep calm and say what has to be said quietly and coherently, and if they try to shout you down, just repeat yourself and keep doing so until they listen (or more likely walk off). If instructions are unclear, ask for written clarification, suggesting this will improve your performance; this can be useful as evidence. Remain confident in your own judgement and ability. Avoid being alone with the bully if you can.

bullying bossThe law
There's no specific legislation dealing with bullying at work. Employers have a legal duty to protect employees' health and consult safety reps about health and safety matters, which includes bullying as it's a workplace stress. Safety reps have legal rights: to inspect the workplace and to take up health and safety complaints, with paid time off for their functions. Bullying involving a sexual racial or disability aspect may be challenged under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, Race Relations Act 1976, or Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Unions should have policies to deal with bullying, making clear that it will not be tolerated. The complaints procedure should set out on what basis the bully may be suspended pending the results of an investigation. Independent counselling should also be available. Bullying is not just some deviant behaviour which can be eliminated by having the correct policies, but such procedures can form the basis around which to organise (see the excellent Solidarity Federation pamphlet: `Health and Safety at Work' on overcoming the pitfalls and problems of relying on legislation and the unions – email solfed (at) for more information).

Fighting back
Check your job description isn't being abused. Keep a detailed diary, including dates, times and locations, of every verbal attack, contrary or arbitrary instruction, or where your competence was questioned. Write to the bully after incidents, challenging them, and keep copies of relevant correspondence and memos. When making a complaint stick to the facts and avoid character assassination. It's probably a good idea to send copies of your complaint to senior management. Wherever possible, insist on a witness, either a friend or union rep, being present at meetings. Tell your doctor what's happening as they will usually give you a sick note giving you time to recover and plan your next move. It's important to state the cause, and name the bully on the sick note as it can be a very important piece of evidence.

Making a complaint may make things worse and lead to increased vindictiveness and being labelled a trouble-maker. Confrontation can be unsafe when it's done alone. Bullying usually affects several members of staff, and the more people experiencing it the stronger your case and potential allies. The staff of one school responded to problems with their headmaster by avoiding further argument, keeping silent, and not reacting. The head's self-satisfied smirk was replaced with a puzzled 'what are they up to now?' expression:

"Although this did nothing to alter the practical problems, we felt better because it was no longer the headmaster calling the tune."
bullying boss Quietly build solidarity with your colleagues, being careful who you talk to, and when you have enough information use it. Be creative: paste a caricature of them on noticeboards, PCs etc. If desperate deface their notes, property, car etc. with suitably, poignant life questions, but be careful, remember CCTV and don't get caught. If you need assistance you can contact SolFed: using an outside group can be very effective, assuring anonymity, but it's no replacement for solidarity at work.

Last resort
As a last resort you can always resign and try to prove to an industrial tribunal that you were forced to leave due to intolerable conditions. You must be employed for two years and will need a detailed log of the abuse to be able to claim 'constructive dismissal'. Tribunals will examine particular recorded incidents of abuse but their main interest is in whether the correct procedures were followed. A request for an acceptable reference can be built into a winning claim. Compensation varies. In an out-of-court settlement won by Unison, a social worker in Scotland in 1996 received £66,000 after being forced to retire through ill health, caused by bullying by her superior. A health visitor was awarded £5,000 damages in 1997 from North East Thames Community Care NHS Trust, after persistent undermining by a nursing manager.

Organising against bullying can have a knock-on effect and help build wider confidence and solidarity in the workplace as Bob, a postal worker, explains:

"Management are constantly trying to get information out of us so they can make cuts and increase profits but we do everything we can to sabotage their efficiency drives. It's our knowledge and experience which one day will be used to transform our working lives for the benefit of all. In the meantime, we have an ongoing guerrilla campaign on our hands... and that includes against union bureaucrats along with the bosses. Sure, we are not as solid as we would all like, but the basic uncooperative attitude is always there."

Written by the Red & Black Club, Part of the Solidarity Federation.

Organising 101 - Dave Smith

A series of workplace organising tips, with a particular focus on health and safety, by Dave Smith of the Blacklist Support Group. This series was first published by Hazards Magazine.

01. Using flower power at work

On a TUC training course I was running, a union rep told a story about one of her members who had reached the final stage of the company sickness monitoring procedure. There was no denying that the woman had a poor sick record but her absences were due to ongoing hospital treatment following a workplace injury two years earlier. Despite the rep quoting employment law, the managers were not impressed. The worker had gone over the trigger levels and it looked certain that she would be dismissed under the capability procedure.

The final stage hearing was to take place on Friday. The rep spent Wednesday and Thursday going round to all the co-workers, explaining what was happening and asking if they would put in a pound to buy a card. The rep bought a bunch of flowers and an oversized ‘Get Well Soon’ card, the kind of the thing that your lovestruck teenage son buys his first girlfriend on Valentine’s Day.

On Friday, five minutes before the hearing was to take place, all of the workers turned up outside the HR office. There were hugs all round as the sick woman was presented with the giant card and flowers, with the managers who were hearing the case forced to wait in the corridor until the impromptu ceremony was over. The meeting finally started five minutes late, the manager’s opening remarks were: “OK, we get your point.” The appeal was granted and the member was referred to occupational health, with reasonable adjustments to her job implemented a few weeks later.

You know all the co-workers who had signed the card or put in their pound told the story to whoever would listen about how they had saved the worker’s job. Not the rep but them - the workers. Now that is what union organising is all about.

02. A walk in the park

Some time ago, I was training safety reps on how to carry out workplace inspections. It was a sunny day, so we took a short walk to a local park to put the theory into practice. In a five minute inspection the 12 new reps identified some low hanging branches and a pile of dog's mess on a section of uneven paving slabs.

I was sceptical and asked if anyone had talked to any of the ground maintenance workers. The answer was "no". So we wandered over to the Tudor Lodge where the park keepers were based. When we asked if there were any safety issues worth reporting the response from the keeper was, “no, not really.”

After we persuaded him that we were not from management, he reconsidered. “Well, except that I get assaulted about twice a day, usually when we have to get people to leave the park late at night.” He then pointed to an axe mark in the Tudor door frame where he had been attacked the week before.

We looked inside the medieval building crammed full of gardening tools and a rep asked: "It's much smaller than I imagined, where is your toilet?” The answer was: “There isn't one. I have to use McDonald’s across the road.”

By now he was opening up. “My first job every morning is to walk round the park benches picking up the syringes which appear overnight.” After a few minutes we found out that he was employed via an agency, worked a 14-hour shift during the summer and had no way of communicating with his office because the walkie-talkie had been broken for months.

A short conversation with a park worker, uncovered issues around potential needlestick injuries, training needs, excessive hours, welfare facilities and assaults. Without any input from the workforce, the safety report was useless. What is the most important thing to remember when becoming a union safety rep? Make sure you spend most of your time talking to people!

03. If you want to win, you better listen

I was working with a union branch where the council housing stock - and 300 of its members - were being outsourced to a private housing association. The union had been in consultation to protect the terms and conditions of affected workers, as required by the TUPE regulations. But everyone knew examples of privatisations where, down the line, contracts and safety conditions had got much worse.

Contractors could get away with it because unions and reps were unwilling to take a stand or were ineffective. Here, a union ‘Know Your Legal Rights’ meeting addressed by a renowned lawyer attracted just a handful. The branch committee had all but given up any hope of fighting the privatisation or having any reps in place post-transfer.

At the next the branch committee meeting we set every rep one simple task - go back to where they worked and sound out what workers were moaning about. The clear winner… car parking.

Everyone got free car parking. It was safe and cheap. Would they have to pay a fiver a day to park? Or would it mean parking in the street about a mile away and walking to work through a poorly lit, less salubrious part of town? This was a genuine safety issue – safer access and egress is the legal responsibility of the employer. It was also an issue of their contractual rights.

Did we then rely on the negotiators to quote the law and sort it out? Like hell! The reps organised another meeting: ‘Defend your car parking from attack’. One hundred and twenty people turned up. Before the next consultation meeting, management was falling over themselves to reassure the union that the car parking was safe. It was what the union did outside the negotiations that was critical.

The 120 people angry about their car parking elected a group of new reps prepared to act as ‘temporary TUPE reps’ in the run up to the transfer. We didn’t just win the issue, we found out what workers were angry about, mobilised the membership and built the union. Quoting the law was secondary.

04. Blocking roads and turning a corner

Junior doctors closed the road outside Downing Street. Firefighters brought traffic to a standstill in Parliament Square. Construction workers with a giant inflatable rat shut down Park Lane. Dave Smith, secretary of the Blacklist Support Group, explains why blocking roads has become a great way to make bad employers change direction.

On a cold wintry day in 2015, a young electrician was sacked on the Crossrail project after he had raised complaints about unsafe access routes on the building site. His union, Unite, attempted to negotiate his reinstatement but the Bond Street station contract was run by two of construction's notorious blacklisting companies and they didn't want to know.

At short notice the Blacklist Support Group called a protest outside the site entrance. When around 30 people had turned up, one of these concerned members of the public pressed the button on the pedestrian crossing and we waited for the lights to change. Once the traffic was safely stopped, we walked into the road, taking our banners with us. And stayed there. This was Oxford Street. During evening rush hour.

In less than a minute, one of the most famous shopping roads in the world was in total gridlock. Suddenly everyone wanted to know us. Shoppers cheered our speeches about taxpayers’ money being paid to firms that mistreat their workforce. Bus drivers stuck in the jam took our flyers apologising for the delay but explaining about the major safety issue on a London transport project. Importantly, people were instantly posting photos of our banners and placards to Twitter and Facebook. We were trending within minutes.

The Met's finest finally arrived half an hour later - the police vans couldn't get through the traffic. Were we nicked? No. We have a democratic right to protest in this country and blocking a road does not result in instant arrest. Instead police officers are required to ask everyone present a series of questions, known as the 'five steps'. “Can we assist your protest? Do you realise that there are consequences if you continue?”

During the few minutes it takes to talk through the series of warnings, we continued to entertain the ever increasing crowd of shoppers who were now watching the spectacle unfold. We were peaceful and polite throughout and just before the 5th and final warning, we took a democratic vote whether to finish our protest. It was unanimous. Partly because we had achieved our aims of raising publicity and partly because it was absolutely freezing cold. Not a single person was arrested.

The whole thing was caught on video from start to finish and uploaded to YouTube, appearing on media websites almost immediately. Civil disobedience is all about publicity, it is pointless if no one knows about it.

The outcome of our mischief? The employer rang the Unite union official even before we took the vote tosuspend the protest and the electrician was immediately reinstated on full pay pending further negotiations. We went to the pub to celebrate our 30 minute victory.

Somewhere in that episode there is probably a few lessons to be learnt. Be bold but act collectively. We're not looking for martyrs. We don't want anyone arrested or to lose their job. But done properly, low level civil disobedience can have a huge impact on a dispute and give a big morale boost to union members.

One person standing in the middle of the road risks getting run over. When an organised group takes to the tarmac, it can quickly set a campaign on the right road.

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Be bold but act collectively. We're not looking for martyrs. We don't want anyone arrested or to lose their job. But done properly, low level civil disobedience can have a huge impact on a dispute and give a big morale boost to union members.
Dave Smith

05. Getting bugged by hot-desking

Hot-desking – where do I start? The latest money saving idea that means office workers are not allowed their own desk anymore but everyone has to fight over the communal computer monitors in a big open plan workspace. Goodbye family photos and postcards that make work a little bit more bearable. Hello soulless corporate mono-culture. As for having a place to store all your paperwork (or even your favourite tea bags), forget it.

Of course, workers hate it. As well as dehumanising the work environment, there are health and safety issues. If no one is guaranteed the same computer every day, is a brand new DSE risk assessment supposed to take place every single day? If workers now have to carry all their documents with them wherever they go, is this a new manual handling hazard? And as anyone who has had to share a public computer with hundreds of other people will testify, what about communicable diseases? That keyboard you are tapping away at isn’t just used by you, it’s been sneezed over and had food crumbs spilled on it by god knows how many people. Oh and by the way, the cleaners are under strict instructions not to clear rubbish from the desks.

As is often the case, lots of people are moaning but what is the union going to do about it? One of my favourite tactics was from a group of safety reps in a north London council who decided to get their members involved by using an idea from off the telly. Who remembers that reality TV programme, ‘How clean is your house?’, where Kim and Aggie used to do a deep clean of someone’s home. Most weeks seemed to involve taking swabs of the built up grime from a manky cooker in student digs. The swabs would then be sent to a lab and the cultures grown in a petri dish. In the last scene of the programme a list of harmful germs and spores would be revealed – all of which would be potentially lethal. We did ‘How clean is your hot-desk?’.

Every rep got trained up in how to correctly use the swabs and the week before the quarterly safety inspection, an email was sent telling members that the union would be conducting a safety sampling exercise. All on the same day, the safety reps went out and people were queuing up to get their desks swabbed. Everyone was talking about it. One of the safety reps was a lab technician in a 6th form and the swabs were taken back for the A-level chemistry students to practice with. This is all perfectly legal under the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations, and if your workplace does not have access to a chemistry lab, then the regulations require the employer to provide facilities and assistance in this kind of thing.

It takes a while for the cultures to grow but as you can imagine, the union was being contacted by their members almost on a daily basis to find out what the results were. It’d been a long time since publication of a report by safety reps had generated quite so much interest amongst the workforce. Full colour photographs of bacteria are not a pretty picture. Alongside a list of long Latin names and their possible health effects, the next union safety newsletter caused uproar. At the next meeting of the safety committee, hot desking was the first item on the agenda.

06. Something for the weekend

On building sites, long hours and weekend working are the norm. I've lost count of the times I fell out with a site manager, arguing that if they only paid me single time on a Saturday morning, I’d barely be making any money after paying for train fares, breakfast and tax. But in a casualised industry where most of the workers are employed via agencies, the response was often, “if you don't want to work Saturday, don't bother coming in on Monday.” Even if I did cut a deal, the foreman would say keep if to myself - he was doing me a favour. This never sat well with me.

On one site, the foreman came into the canteen on Thursday morning and announced a big concrete pour was scheduled for Sunday and everyone was expected to work all weekend. I'm halfway out of my seat ready to have a row when this old carpenter next to me grabs my arm and whispers “sit down young 'un.” Nothing is said and the foreman leaves the hut. Over the next 20 minutes, I watch this fella go round and quietly chat to the 20 other workers on the job.

When the foreman came back into the hut at lunchtime, the old hand casually says “sorry, but me and most of the others are on a stag do and won't be able to make it.” The foreman looks straight at him and then asks everyone else, “is that right?” Most nod. One or two say, “yes, it's been planned for a while.” The foreman knew it was all bollocks but after he couldn’t bully anyone into agreeing to work all weekend, he left the hut.

By Friday morning, we’ve all been offered double time for Saturday and Sunday, with a guarantee that we'll be given more notice in the future. No need for shouting and hollering, no need for one person to be a martyr. Lesson learned: Being prepared to challenge the manager is important - but getting all the workers to support you is often decisive.

07. Find a friend

A workplace may be seriously unhealthy, but it’s frequently only budgets, deadlines and margins in the must-do column for senior management. A solitary union rep quoting Hazards magazine is unlikely to change that. A lone voice is easy to ignore, particularly when the company board is more fixated on a healthy profit than a healthy workforce.

When it comes to organising around workplace health and safety, the key to success is recognising that unions are collective organisations. That means individual reps can’t do it all on their own, we need support. But where to start?

My suggestion for new reps is to get a big piece of paper and draw a plan of the workplace divided into different departments.

Take retail workers. I have done a lot of work with the shopworkers’ union Usdaw, organising in the major supermarket chains. The very large superstores employ up to 1,000 people, with a 24/7 shift pattern. A rep has to consider the aisles, warehouse, deli counter, bakery and tills but not forgetting the canteen, office, car park or security. Don’t worry if it’s not to scale – identifying the different sections, locations or shifts is the important bit.

Next, ask yourself two simple questions. What are the issues? And do I have any friends?

What are the safety issues people working in each department complain about? If the rep works on checkout for example, common issues are lack of breaks, broken seats, RSI and abuse from customers.

We tend to know everything about areas we work in ourselves but much less about other parts of the business. Are there different issues affecting night shift workers in the warehouse? Blocked fire exits? Faulty roll-cages? Cold temperatures? What about the admin workers based in the office?

Then, work out who your friends are. Is there anyone in each department who is particularly sympathetic towards the union? Not just a union member, but someone who is always prepared to chat with the rep or who has raised concerns in the past.

If you don’t immediately know the answer, don’t make it up, just leave it blank. Whenever safety reps try this for the first time, there are inevitably gaps in knowledge. Don’t worry, that is the point of the exercise, to highlight where we need to do more work.

Over the next few weeks, wherever a gap exists, make a point of visiting that particular department or shift. Introduce yourself and get a few pointers about the ongoing health or safety concerns that only workers on that section would know about.

By patiently chatting with people over a period of time, the rep raises the profile of the union and its likely that that will lead to them recruiting a few new members in the process. But it will also uncover workers’ concerns. This means when reps talk to management in the future, they are talking about issues their members are really interested in.

Just as importantly, the process will identify a few people who are real allies. An informal network of union members a rep can discuss ideas with, who might be prepared to help out at a big staff meeting if the rep needs someone to back them up. Remember, it’s easy for management to ignore one person, it’s more difficult to ignore lots of people all making the same point.

In union organising, we call this process ‘mapping’. If you were training to be an army officer at Sandhurst, they would call it reconnaissance. It’s simple, it’s non-confrontational but it really pays dividends in the long run. Give it a go.


Hazards mapping webpages.
Hazards organising webpages.
TUC health and safety organising guide.

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08. Just ask what workers want

I was working with a union branch that had completed a detailed online safety survey. It started with about 10 standard personal information questions. Followed by 30 questions that asked members to grade from 1-10 how they felt about every possible safety issue. Followed by another 30 questions about options for solving the problems. The survey was certainly thorough. But barely anyone filled it in.

It needed a rethink. Firstly, anything that takes up more than one page of A4 is usually too long. Secondly, only ask questions that are going to be of some use in your negotiations with management. I asked the branch committee: ‘What safety issues do your members regularly come to you complaining about?’ Once we had identified 15 issues, that was effectively the survey form finished.

At the top of the form was the union logo and a short introduction: ‘In the next 12 months, the union will be negotiating with management on the following safety issues: please tick the three that are most important to you’. Below this we listed the 15 issues that the reps had identified. It is important to limit the choices or workers may tick every box and the survey becomes pointless.

At the bottom we asked people to tell us the department they worked in. A small number of complaints about a hazard becomes more significant if they all come from one part of the workplace.

Finally, workers wanting more information had the option to add their name. This is a great way of spotting workers who might be prepared to help out in the future.

I asked reps to personally hand out the survey forms. The forms took no more than 20 to 30 seconds to complete. One week later, we had over 300 responses. Because the reps had done this face-to-face, the union profile had been raised. Collating the information was simple and the union was able to identify concerns members were really angry about and that required action. Union organising needn’t be complicated.

09. You gotta fight for your right to safety

The 40th anniversary of the Safety Representatives and Safety Committees Regulations (SRSC) is a time to look back at what has been achieved. We should take pride that fatalities and accident rates have reduced significantly over the past four decades. Back in the 1970s, one building worker was killed in an industrial accident every working day. Thankfully that figure has now been cut by around 75 per cent.

But just as anti-discrimination laws did not eradicate racism or sexism, workplace health and safety did not automatically improve because of a change in legislation. Amending the statute book is one thing, making progress in the real world is quite another. We had to fight for everything that has been achieved. It took hard work by an army of volunteer safety reps who have worked tirelessly to improve the working conditions on behalf of their fellow workers.

The sight of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and employers patting themselves on the back for the improvement in workplace safety is therefore more than a bit galling. Some employers recognise the value of a reality check and have been willing to collaborate with unions: We thank them for it and hope that others will follow their lead.

Bloody ignorance

But after 40 years, far too many employers still haven’t seen the light and the result for working people can be devastating. As well as the memorable disasters that have stuck in the public consciousness such as Grenfell, Kings Cross and Piper Alpha, there have been countless smaller tragedies that shattered families. When things go wrong, time and again, coroners’ courts or official reports flagged up where employers deliberately cut corners to save money or completely ignored repeated complaints by the workforce.

Safety reps were not just ignored; we were ridiculed by politicians and the mainstream media and in some cases vindictively targeted by big business. The blacklisting of safety reps in construction is so well documented that it has become part of union mythology, but victimisation was not restricted to the building industry. Teachers, carers, train drivers, dinner ladies, engineers and factory workers have all been unfairly dismissed after complaining on behalf of their fellow workers.

Fighting the fear

Attacking safety reps creates a climate of fear in which other workers are less likely to raise legitimate concerns. The result has been the continued plague of hidden, long-term occupational diseases from cancer, respiratory problems and musculoskeletal disorders to stress and other mental health conditions. Workers’ Memorial Day acts as an annual reminder of the devastation caused when profit is considered more important than the safety of workers.

We should remember that nothing in the world ever changes for the better just because it should. Progress happens because human beings make a fuss. Over 100 years ago, Victorian factory inspectors identified that asbestos was killing people; scientists confirmed this time and again throughout the twentieth century. But it took construction workers on the Barbican refusing to install the deadly fibre, libel cases and staff in schools across the country to collectively decide to refuse to work with asbestos, before the politicians took notice.

It was only in 1999, after a high profile campaign by trade unions and safety campaigners, that the UK finally banned the importation of asbestos. During the intervening decades, hundreds of thousands of workers suffered slow painful deaths.

Despite 40 years of the SRSC regulations, in some ways we are now going backwards. The complete lack of legal rights for the ever-increasing precarious workforce is a regression to the conditions of early industrial capitalism, turning those forced to work via employment agencies, on zero hours contracts, false self-employment or in the gig economy into second class citizens when it comes to employment rights and workplace safety.

On my desk at work I have a purple sticker that reads ‘casualisation kills’. It was produced by the Simon Jones Memorial Campaign in 1998 after a young student was killed on his first day at work in Shoreham docks. Nearly 20 years later, the deregulation of many of the functions previously carried out by the HSE, means that the docks are now considered a low risk sector where the employers effectively police themselves.

Collective power

We need to remind ourselves that we are not just safety reps: we are union safety reps. Our strength comes from working collectively with our co-workers, not from our ability to quote the law. The more we see ourselves as an integral part of the trade union movement and concentrate our energies on consciously involving workers in safety initiatives, the more likely we are to achieve fundamental change.

At our best, unions are part of a wider movement to improve the living conditions for working people by bringing about fundamental change in issues such as fairness, equality and the environment. Every trade union safety rep, the Construction Safety Campaign, Families Against Corporate Killers (FACK), the asbestos victims’ networks, all those who participated in the Hazards movement; every single one of you have played a part in improving the society we live in.

On the 40th anniversary of safety reps, take pride in what we have achieved together but never forget in boardrooms profit counts and gets counted, not bodies. You don’t get given health and safety, you fight for and win it.

10. 'Imagine you're a tree'

I recently attended a workshop on tackling stress in the workplace. Half way through, the trainer asked everyone to stand up and close our eyes. “I want you to imagine you’re a mighty oak tree. Hold your arms in the air as if they are branches and slowly sway them from side to side. Can you feel the wind rustling the leaves?”

After a couple of minutes of listening to a CD playing birdsong, the punchline of the session was that whenever we felt stressed at work, we should take some time out and practice this relaxation technique. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a quirky one off, only worth mentioning when cracking a joke, it’s part of a developing pattern.

For the past few years there has been a growing trend amongst health and safety professionals to promote ‘well-being’. This movement claims to improve workers’ health by encouraging a series of lifestyle changes, often with the explicit support of employers who provide financial incentives. Well-being and mindfulness have almost become a crusade with advocates zealously claiming that illnesses such as cancers and especially mental health conditions, can be significantly reduced by workers making a few relatively minor alterations to how they live their lives.

Just to be clear, every union I know is in favour of more fruit in the staff canteen, keep fit sessions at lunchtime or programmes that encourage quitting smoking or cycling to work. However, to claim that these well-being programmes can eradicate the death toll caused by occupational diseases or are the silver bullet that will defeat the huge increase in stress and associated mental health conditions in the workplace is a dangerous fantasy.

Workers develop occupational diseases because of the work they carry out. Musculoskeletal disorders and cancers do not occur in a random distribution across the entire population, they tend to appear in clusters. And in the vast majority of cases they are based upon what individuals have been exposed to either in their working lives or local communities.

Those who are forced to work in dusty environments have a greater incidence of respiratory problems; the same is true for working class children who live close to busy pollution filled roads. Workers who carry out heavy lifting or bend over all day as part of their job are much more likely to have a bad back. Ask any teacher how a proposed OFSTED inspection affects the mental health of the staff in a school.

The way to reduce long term ill-health in the workplace is by correctly identifying the hazards that are causing the problems and then systematically tackling them at source. That is the essence of the risk assessment process.

Unfortunately, rather than tackling the underlying causes of ill-health, the current fad for well-being leaves all the workplace hazards exactly as they are. On their own, however well meaning, these programmes appear to shift the responsibility for a worker’s ill-health from the employer to the worker. In many cases these initiatives are part of a concerted campaign by employers to blame the workers rather than spend money by tackling the health and safety issues at source.

If austerity means that staffing levels have been cut and workload has increased, that has an entirely predictable negative effect upon workers’ health. By all means promote healthy eating - but if the supervisor is constantly chasing you to get something finished by a completely unachievable deadline, thinking you’re an oak tree isn’t going to make an acorn’s worth of difference.

11. How to stress-test your workplace

A management preoccupation with budgets, deadlines, targets and profit margins means every safety rep will sometimes come into conflict with their managers. Highlighting safety issues that bosses would prefer to overlook is what being a conscientious safety rep is all about.

Our ability to improve conditions in the workplace is not reliant on the support of a benevolent employer but the backing of our co-workers. So, it is vital that safety reps continually spend time talking to the members. It is too easy to over estimate how much support we really have. It is one thing for workers to agree with their safety rep, it is quite another for them to stand up to management when it counts. It is worth periodically checking our level of support.

Following the financial crash of 2008, the big banks that have operated for decades and remain profitable are now required to undergo periodic ‘stress tests’ to check the viability of what they were doing. Union safety reps wishing to find out to what extent their fellow workers are prepared to stick together should carry out stress tests of their own, especially when you think that management are refusing to deal with a serious safety issue.

One of the most basic tests is an open letter. First, set yourself a target to test how much backing you can muster: 75 per cent of the workers in a particular department within a two-week period is a useful benchmark. Then come up with a simple, easily understood demand. I’ve seen safety reps call for the reinstatement of a kettle and microwave in the staff restroom. Keep it simple.

Once you hit your target number of signatures, the next step is to publicly deliver the message. My preferred option is to ask all the workers to join the safety rep in handing the open letter to a senior manager. The mere act of walking together as a group to the manager’s office and standing alongside the safety rep when presenting the letter helps to cement that sense of collective cohesion. It also sends a big message to the management about the strength of feeling on the issue.

12. Unreasonable behaviour

As trade unionists, we don’t want any workers to finish their shift any less healthy than when they started it. Regrettably when employers think about health and safety, they’re largely concerned with what they need to do to comply with legal minimums and how much it will cost.

We are clearly coming at it from different angles. We want to save lives; they want to save money. It’s hardly surprising that safety reps and managers regularly disagree. It’s at this point that reps often resort to quoting the law. Unfortunately, much of health and safety law is riddled with the words ‘suitable’, ‘sufficient’ and ‘reasonable’. What workers consider reasonable is often completely at odds with what their manager thinks.

The Health and Safety at Work Act doesn’t require an employer to make the workplace as safe as possible. Instead employers only have to make it as safe as ‘reasonably practicable’. They weigh up how much a safety measure will cost them against how much they consider it will improve the safety of their staff. Workplace safety is effectively a cost/benefit analysis for employers. It always comes down to money.

A few years ago, workers toiled on the new Wembley Stadium through a really hot summer. Without any shade down at pitch level, temperatures rocketed and the construction workers on site were suffering in the heat. The union asked for additional breaks and clean drinking water points to be set up around the site, even calling in the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) at one point.

But as some water taps already existed on the site and there is no legal maximum working temperature, there was nothing in the law that explicitly required the contractors to put any new measures in place, so they didn’t. The workers’ response was to down tools and refuse to leave the site canteen until the safety issue was resolved.

The cost/benefit analysis calculations had suddenly changed. Compared to the loss in production, the cost of clean drinking water was now considered to be extremely reasonable by the employers. Workers acting together got results that relying on the law couldn’t. It’s something we should all remember.

13. Check your make-up

I recently worked with a group of union safety reps at a large distribution depot who ran a campaign for cheaper tampons in the women’s toilets. Night shift workers were not allowed to leave the premises and even if they could, there were no shops open for miles, leaving women needing to shell out £1 for a single tampon from a workplace vending machine. Workers had moaned about it for ages but nothing was done until the election of a female safety rep.

Different groups of workers have different health and safety priorities, that’s pretty obvious. So for unions to genuinely articulate staff’s safety concerns, we need to ensure that we represent the full diversity of the workforce. Yet the 2018 TUC survey of safety reps found that they were overwhelmingly white men over the age of 35 who have worked for the same employer for a number of years.

There are a number of issues that specifically affect women such as the menopause or lactation breaks for breastfeeding mothers. Last minute changes to shift patterns can be a nightmare for anyone with caring responsibilities. Sexual harassment of young female staff was one of the key complaints of the McStrikers (Hazards 143). All of these are safety issues that unions should be raising with employers.

Safety is improved by working together collectively, which means recognising that union safety structures need input from the full range of workers voices. We can all identify certain groups of workers who are underrepresented.

Be honest, does your safety committee reflect the make up of the workforce? Not just in terms of gender or racial balance – are young people, shiftworkers, migrants workers or temps represented? What about workers who have English as a second language?

Ideally unions would like a safety rep for different groups of under-represented staff in a workplace, or at least a network of ‘contacts’ that could feed into our safety procedures. But nothing happens spontaneously, safety reps need to make a deliberate effort to talk to our co-workers, especially those whose voices are not often heard. The process starts by being conscious that equality and diversity have safety implications for trade unions.

14. Pilot study

When the airline pilots’ union BALPA carried out bodymapping exercises with flight crew members, neck and shoulder pain was highlighted repeatedly in bright marker pen splodges on the body maps. What was striking was the direct correlation between rank and the side of neck that was painful. Captains suffered pain on one side of the neck and First Officers in the other. What was the cause?

Aviation rules changed after 9/11 and flight deck doors are now locked during flights, only opened once the pilot has looked at a video screen to check who is asking to enter the cockpit. The video screens are placed by the door, which is behind the pilots, forcing them to twist in their seats whenever they check the video screen. As Captains always sit in the left-hand seat and the First Officer in the right seat, they twist in different directions, resulting in the pain occurring in different sides of the body.

The evidence is compelling and obvious – and importantly doesn’t require the safety reps to have any kind of specialist medical expertise. In some airlines, BALPA has already negotiated successfully for the screens to be moved to a position in front of the pilots, removing the hazard causing the health problem altogether.

Safety reps are legally entitled to paid time off to carry out regular inspections of the workplace, to proactively identify health and safety issues. There is absolutely no reason why bodymapping cannot be carried out as a form of inspection. If you’ve never done a bodymapping exercise with the workers you represent, give it a try.

See the full ‘Pilot study’ photofile.

15. 'All together now'

One of the main strengths of union safety reps is that in the workplace we are the genuine voice of the workers we represent. Whether through regular inspections, investigations after accidents or raising concerns at safety committees, union safety reps are a reality check, bringing issues that affect workers directly to the attention of the employers.

The system works because we are part of the workforce and responsibility for the problems with health and safety at work lies with the employer. If a company boss reduces staffing to dangerous levels or refuses to provide adequate welfare facilities, organising workers to collectively apply pressure on their boss can result in immediate tangible improvements.

But in many situations, the underlying reason for the safety problem does not only lie with a particular employer. If laws need to change, we need to influence Westminster, not a manager in our own firm. That means union safety reps need to link together with others across an entire industry, exerting pressure and organising meetings to build a network of activists able to mobilise both inside their own workplace but also collectively across multiple employers.

This is nothing new. In 1988 following the Piper Alpha tragedy in which 167 offshore workers were killed due to Occidental Petroleum cutting corners to boost profits, safety reps across the North Sea organised the Offshore Industry Liaison Committee (OILC) to demand proper safety on oil rigs. In the same year, rank and file building workers set up the Construction Safety Campaign (CSC) as a response to the three deaths a week taking place in the industry.

There are many other examples in the docks, railways, amongst postal workers and in the campaign to get asbestos banned. All these campaigns started with a small group of safety reps talking to each other about organising some kind of joint protest, which developed into bigger collective mobilisations.

So, whether at conferences or training courses, on the phone or via social media, I’m challenging safety reps to start talking to each other again and set up new initiatives for this generation. I’m looking forward to seeing direct action over safety back in the news.

16. Bright Sparks

Health and safety wasn’t handed to us on a plate by benevolent employers or far-sighted politicians, says Hazards organising expert Dave Smith. For centuries, workers fought for safer workplaces. ‘Builder’s Crack’, a newly rediscovered film, reveals how sharing our organising successes and strategies is safety critical.

In 2020, everyone has a video camera on their phone and unions use film routinely as an integral part of their campaigning. But only 20 years ago, long before anyone had heard of ‘social media’, it was virtually unheard of.

Countless acts of individual heroism against hostile employers and collective action by workers in offices, factories and hospitals are mostly hidden from history. So, the rediscovery of a long lost film about union organising on building sites in the 1990s is a rare treat from the archive.

Builders Crack: The Movie’ tells the story of the London Joint Sites Committee (JSC), a rank and file network of bricklayers, electricians, carpenters and painters who took a stand over deaths on building sites and attacks on workers’ rights - and won. The digitally remastered film along with a Q&A with the film makers and safety activists who appear in the documentary is now available to watch on YouTube.

The film shows Tony O’Brien of the Construction Safety Campaign interviewed on BBC News after a tower crane at Canary Wharf crashed 25 storeys killing three workers. Another scene shows hundreds of building workers in hard hats and hi-viz on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral, having walked off nearby building sites to attend a vigil for a worker killed in a fall down an unguarded lift shaft.

But instead of being sombre, the film is uplifting, documenting how building workers came together to save lives by fighting back against attempts by bosses to cut corners. One electrician, Steve, describes a safety dispute after workers were told to change and store their clothes in an old shipping container that had previously stored barrels of oil. The dispute was the spark that led to the unionisation of the Jubilee Line – possibly the best organised project in UK construction for the past 40 years.

Another electrician, Jim, recalls how a coordinated walk out by thousands of electricians across the country stopped the major employers’ attempt to allow untrained non-qualified workers to carry out electrical work. In another memorable scene, a bricklayer puts his skills to good use by bricking up the entrance to the construction employers’ headquarters, while senior executives of firms who blacklisted union safety reps met inside.

Yet these large scale mobilisations of construction workers did not happen overnight or spontaneously. They took conscious organisation. Throughout the film, the JSC activists explain the need to do the “nitty gritty work” of patiently talking to workers, finding out their concerns and giving them confidence to “believe in themselves”.

And it worked. Even with the UK’s anti-union laws, JSC activists armed with their notorious fanzine ‘Builder’s Crack’ were still able to lead a succession of successful actions from 1991 until 2005. This was an organic rank and file model of union organising, in which workers’ safety was a central plank.

Whether it be non-existent welfare facilities, asbestos, workers sacked for raising concerns about safety on site or unpaid wages, the JSC strove to unite workers irrespective of their employer, union, trade or race. As another former JSC activist, Steve Hedley – currently the RMT acting general secretary – makes clear, while bosses may use racism as a means to divide and rule the workforce: “We must never fall into that trap. A victory for one is a victory for all.”

While ‘Builders Crack: The Movie’ documents the activities of the JSC, there is a long tradition of grassroots union organising led by adhoc networks of construction workers rather than the official union structures, that are constrained by the most restrictive legislation in Western Europe.

A bricklayer, Paul, commented, that the JSC was “not there to replace the unions, it’s more like an auxiliary”, able to carry out actions that the unions couldn’t. This could equally apply to the Building Workers Charter in the 1960 and '70s, Building Worker Group in the 1980s, the Offshore Industry Liaison Committee that organised occupations of oil rigs in the North Sea after the Piper Alpha disaster, the Construction Safety Campaign, right up to the Construction Rank and File today.

As the film maker Darren O’Grady says in the introduction to the YouTube video, “these stories of working class struggle need to be told”. But its not just construction or in the past. Appearing in the Q&A after the film, Unite safety rep and bus driver, Moe Manir explained how despite being divided into different companies due to privatisation, rank and file workers in London were using Facebook as an organising tool to improve safety for drivers during Covid. “The Facebook groups became our canteen”, he said. A single consolidated “group for London buses now has over 4,500 members.”

Professor Jane Holgate, a Leeds University employment relations expert, highlighted that as far back as New Unionism in the 1880s it was rank and file union activity amongst precarious workers that often led "the real fights that take place.”

Yes, the re-release of Builders Crack reminds us of our heritage, but two decades after the Canary Wharf Tower crane crash, another tower crane collapsed just a mile away in Bow. With the increase in workplace fatalities and neoliberal attacks on workers’ rights, the union movement does not need nostalgia: it needs to debate how best to respond to the massive attacks that are heading our way.

Rediscovering the tradition of rank and file militancy should be part of the debate about how to defend jobs, wages and safety standards. Yet as a Scottish labourer Chris Clarke reflects at the film’s conclusion: “Sure it’s about being safe on site and having a few extra quid in your pocket, but its also about human dignity.”

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In another memorable scene, a bricklayer puts his skills to good use by bricking up the entrance to the construction employers’ headquarters, while senior executives of firms who blacklisted union safety reps met inside.
Dave Smith

17. Corporate capture

Every country and pan-national organisation has almost sacred texts that grant fundamental rights. These documents are supposed to guarantee the right to life, to protect workers from discrimination, and the planet from climate catastrophe. Yet in every country in the world, workers are dying, discrimination is rife and the environment is being destroyed.

What is written on paper and what happens in real life are too often two completely different things. Flowery words in a legislative chamber don’t help much when the boss is more interested in making a profit than complying with legal minimum standards. What is needed isn’t just rights, but their enforcement.

Unfortunately, when it comes to health and safety, the public enforcing authorities have become completely neutered by the conscious involvement of big business in statutory decision making structures. This is corporate capture: major corporations are literally writing the laws that apply to them and advising the enforcing authorities about what should and shouldn’t result in prosecution.

Arconic, the multinational that makes the flammable cladding responsible for the Grenfell tragedy, advised the UK government on the relaxation of Building Regulations for its own products, even bragging about it on the company website. The Office of Rail and Road regulator is literally paid for by the major rail companies. Just as the airline industry finances the Civil Aviation Authority, a body that publicly acknowledges its intention not to be a proactive regulator.

Whole swathes of the British economy are now allowed to self-regulate when it comes to safety, including patently dangerous sectors such as the docks. Tesco and other major supermarkets sit on a panel that decides whether prosecutions of safety violations in the sector are in the public interest. Unsurprisingly, this has seen legal action against retail giants dropped.

Rather than defending workers’ fundamental right to life, the HSE repeatedly sides with business against tougher regulation, whether that be over silica dust or organic spores in industrial scale composting facilities. Any pretence of acting as a champion for working people has been jettisoned by the HSE, which is now firmly in the pocket of powerful vested interests.

Never has this been more apparent than during coronavirus. Since the start of the pandemic, the HSE has not prosecuted a single employer for endangering their workforce, this is despite workplaces being repeatedly identified as the centres of outbreaks. Official government guidelines for safe working in industry have been outsourced to the major employers in each sector.

The Construction Leadership Council, a body comprising representatives of the major construction firms that fund the Conservative Party and blacklist union safety reps, has been made responsible for drawing up the ‘Site Operating Procedures’. Now on Version 7, successive revisions of these official guidelines have watered down social distancing and other control measures to ensure construction projects remain open for business.

The enforcing authorities have all but abdicated responsibility for defending workers’ safety, but this is nothing new. Many legal rights in the UK are civil law, which means that rather than the state, it falls to individual workers to enforce their rights by standing up to employers. Yet despite the legal system reinforcing the laughable notion that an employment contract is ‘an agreement between two free and equal parties’, in the real world there is a huge power imbalance between individual workers and employers. Managers who victimise workers who raise concerns about their health and welfare, do it because in most cases they can get away with it.

So even where workers are granted individual rights, it is by acting in unison that workers are more likely to protect themselves and others. The historic action by the National Education Union in encouraging teachers to talk to their colleagues and quote Section 44 of the Employments Rights Act to their managers forced the government to close schools. The lives of thousands of education workers and pupils have been saved, not by the emasculated HSE or even by the letter of the law, but by proactive union organising. That’s a lesson we should all remember from school.

Workplace Organising Basics - IWW

A short series of basic organising tips from the IWW Wales, Ireland, Scotland and England region.

1. Mapping – The Basics

Learn about the workplace, talk to colleagues, and form an organising team to build workers’ power. This is a first in a mini-series of articles where we try to demystify workplace organising by presenting a clear, methodical approach. It begins with workplace mapping! So, what is it?

Knowledge is power! Workplace mapping is a process to learn about the workplace and to visualise it. It helps you understand the geography, the social networks, and the work process itself. This knowledge will be invaluable as it will inform any strategy for a workplace campaign.

Mapping means several different things:

1. Gathering contact information.

Collect contact information for as many workmates as possible. There may be a webpage with a long list of colleagues’ email addresses and phone numbers. If there isn’t, instead of asking each and every worker, try to be creative. Maybe you could distribute a petition about a local cause and ask your colleagues to sign it? Beyond this, is a good idea to get copies of different workers’ contracts and the company’s policies and procedures. Remember to be discreet!

2. Charting the workplace.

Survey the physical layout of the workplace. Draw it out on a big piece of paper, starting with your own office or area of the building. Mark out the entrances, fire exits, and windows (very important, a snitch could eavesdrop from an open window!). Include details such as desks, walkways, cubicles, machines, conveyor belts.

Where is the boss’ office and the canteen? Where are the changing rooms, storage rooms, cleaning cupboards, stairwells? Where do deliveries take place?

Now it is time to add motion! Mark out the flow of movement, the route that workers commonly take. You can draw them in different colours for different groups of staff; which few rooms does your supervisor flitter between? Are there particular areas that get crowded or bottlenecked, such as a ‘junction’ between a couple of main corridors? Do people often hangout on the main stairwell? Are there specific places that certain workers congregate? Ask tactical questions as you are charting your workplace; would it be safe to have a confidential chat in the smoking area?

3. Economic mapping.

Learn about the production process itself, the things that have to get done in order for a product to be made or a service to be delivered. To put it another way, work is already organised, by and for the bosses! You need to learn how.

Though not as many of us work in traditional factory settings anymore, it can be useful to think of your own job in a similar way, as a thought exercise to get your brain on the right track. Which specific tasks need to get done, and how is the overall workforce divided up to do them? Are there different ‘departments,’ what do they do? Which tasks require lots of workers to be concentrated together? What are the raw materials, where do they get delivered, and who delivers them? Think creatively and strategically; what would happen if this or that group of workers suddenly stopped working? If the porters did a slow-down at the delivery gates, who would it affect?

You will quickly realise that the production process goes far beyond your own workplace. This is why industrial unions and the IWW method is so vital! Which other workers and workplaces do you think you should link up with? If you are a cleaner, have a look at the brands on the side of the products that your supervisor orders in bulk. Where do they come from, does the chemical factory have a workplace union? You could reach out and form a relationship with them. If you work at a pub, do any local breweries supply you? Which company delivers the barrels every week? You should ask your IWW branch for insights; a fellow worker might ‘know someone,’ or you might even be able to convince a wobbly to salt that workplace!

4. Social mapping.

This is a vital part of mapping; learn about the people you work with. Who is friends with who, who is the boss’ relative, who is sympathetic to a union, who might be a snitch? Are there social groups? What are the common languages and who speaks them?

There will be a lot of crossover with the economic mapping; workers in close proximity will likely form their own friend groups. The cleaners will probably all be friends, and some of them will be pals with the forklift drivers. The forklift drivers go all over the worksite, and this driver is good friends with this person, that driver absolutely hates that manager etc.

This information will help you decide who to talk to first when you start forming your organising team. It will also reveal who you should avoid!

5. Identify social leaders.

Figure out who is well respected and influential. Who is the person that everyone goes to when they have a problem? Does anyone have a history of standing up to the boss? Are there some workers who are very popular and get on well with lots of colleagues?

However, whether or not a worker is influential goes beyond their sociability. It can relate closely with their role in the production process. As hinted above, the forklift drivers go all over the place, they probably know loads of people in lots of different circles. They might be able to pass information between workers who otherwise never get a chance to talk to one another. A popular worker in such a role would be an incredibly powerful person to have onboard! Remember, if you don’t get the social leaders on side, the boss will!
Your Job Your Union!

Mapping is an evolving process. As your organising team increases, your map and understanding of the workplace will become more nuanced. But these basics are more than enough for you to get started!

Knowledge is power! Workplace mapping is a process to learn about the workplace and to visualise it. It helps you understand the geography, the social networks, and the work process itself. This knowledge will be invaluable as it will inform any strategy for a workplace campaign.

2. One-To-One Conversations – The Basics

Forming relationships with workmates is the backbone of organising. This next piece in our mini-series about workplace organising is all about one-to-one conversations. Listening to your workmates, learning about the issues, and guiding them into taking action!

Why are one-to-one conversations the best way to talk to workers?

1) Everyone has their own ideas and their own specific issues. You will only find out by asking them directly. If you only discuss these things in a group setting, some people will dominate and others will not be heard.

2) One-to-one chats are secure. You have control over the conversation, you can give out sensitive information at your discretion. It is better to find out that someone is the boss’ cousin in a one-to-one conversation than at a mass organising meeting later!

3) If you start with a mass meeting or a flyer, you will alert the boss right away. They will start their union-busting activity before you have had a chance to lay the groundwork. The one-to-one approach means that things progress at your pace.

Who should you have one-to-one conversations with?

This can be different in each context, but you could start with the influential workers and/or those who you think are most keen. If you have started mapping your workplace and you have a grasp on the main social networks, the information that you have gathered so far should help a lot when deciding who to talk to.

However, you might find it a lot easier to start with colleagues who you get along well with. This is certainly best if you are a bit nervous about the prospect of talking to other colleagues, it will help to boost your confidence and give you practice.

When and where should you have one-to-one conversations?

We recommend that you try to have a predetermined meet-up after work, or make the most of an unexpected opportunity you get out of work hours. For instance, maybe your child goes to football practice one a week and you sometimes bump into a colleague with their child there? You may be able to squeeze in a ten minute chat in the car-park while you both wait for the kids to finish up.

It is also very common, however, for these one-to-one conversations to happen at work, in small chunks over a couple of weeks. Ultimately, it comes down to what is easiest and most convenient for you both. If you do have these conversations at work though, BE DISCREET! You do not want to have anyone overhear you. If you have been ‘charting’ the workplace, your map will reveal some useful spots to have conversations, as well as some bad spots (not near open windows or on stairwells!)

What should you say?

This is where Agitate, Educate, Inoculate, Organise, Unionise comes in! This is NOT proselytising about the “historical righteousness of labour’s cause,” or converting someone to a specific political ideology. Quite the opposite; you want to know exactly where your co-worker is at. You want to know what they are angry about and guide them towards the positive idea that we have the power collectively to solve any problem.

A vital skill to develop is active listening. Remember the 80/20 rule: 80% listening, 20% responding.

AGITATE: Find out what the worker’s grievances and issues are. What makes them angry? Ask further questions; how do these problems impact them personally? Collectivise the issues; “you’re not alone, a few of us are annoyed at that too.” They might mention a problem that you have not heard of before. Ask if they know of other workers who are suffering as a result of it?

EDUCATE: Ask your colleague how they think things could be different. What do they think needs to change? Suggest that there are always solutions and if you all stick together you can take collective action to make it better. You should read up on the struggles going on in your industry across country and around the world. Give your co-workers examples of victories.

INOCULATE: All workers are fearful of organising. Be realistic, aware of difficulties and risks. Bosses will lie and try many tactics to stop you, even illegal ones. But if you stick together, if you are disciplined and organised, you will be safer than you would be alone.

ORGANISE: We need doers, give them a task. Have a list of easy, risk-free jobs and ask them to do one; “you’re mates with John, right? Can you ask him about the recent changes to the cleaners’ breaks?” If they do it, they’re a keeper!

And finally, UNIONISE: All workers are stronger and safer in a union. IWW can give advice, education, training, and resources to support workers to take action together. This is a long-term movement and this is how we grow. Bring ’em in!

These are the absolute basics of having one-to-one conversations with workmates. At first they will be awkward and you will make mistakes, but don’t worry, you will get really good at them with practice! Good luck and get chatting!

One-to-one chats are secure. You have control over the conversation, you can give out sensitive information at your discretion. It is better to find out that someone is the boss’ cousin in a one-to-one conversation than at a mass organising meeting later!

3. Build a Workplace Organising Team – The Basics

The third in our workplace organising basics mini-series. So far you have learned how to map your workplace and how to have one-to-one conversations with your workmates. Now you need to make a team capable of fighting the boss!

Making the team.

With your social map and from the conversations you have had with co-workers, you should be able to identify colleagues who are trustworthy, influential in the workplace, and want to do something to resolve problems. These colleagues will be the basis of your workplace organising team.

The first step is to bring them together; have a meeting to introduce yourselves, and plan a set of ongoing tasks. You should try to include these workers in the mapping that you have already started, and help them have their own one-to-one conversations with other colleagues. Invite them to the IWW so you can all have training and receive ongoing support! Get them clued up so you can begin to act as a unit!

Now that you have a small team you should be able to spread across the workplace. Make use of all your skills, contacts, relationships, and clout! Talk to colleagues in different departments, zones, language and social groups, and learn about the main issues across the workplace.

You should meet regularly to discuss progress and to support and encourage one another. After each meeting everyone should have a task to complete that week. These tasks do not need to be daunting; they could be as simple as getting a phone number for one of the kitchen staff who seems pretty sound. Try to find a balance that keeps everyone involved and valued, while not being burned out. There is no need to rush, go at your own pace and be sustainable. But never be a talking shop!

Continue to invite trustworthy workers into the team. You will begin to gather a list of common grievances and you will get a feeling as to which groups and individual workers are angry and want to do something. Now it is time to think about your first campaign!

[b]Your first campaign.[/b]

Look through your list of grievances. Which issues impact which workers? You might decide that you need more experience and confidence before going after a big problem, so you could practice by tackling a small and simple problem first. On the other hand, there may be one overriding problem that a lot of workers have, and for which the members of the organising team came together in the first place.

There is no perfect blueprint as to how you do this, but you need information about the issue itself. What is it specifically? Who does it impact primarily? Are there additional problems that are caused or made worse by it?

Think POWER: who has the ability to resolve the problem? Is there a reason for why they might they not want it to be changed? Think about the alternative, what you would like to happen instead.

The IWW advocates an escalating strategy. Start with the simplest, easiest, least risky tactic. Try a collective letter signed by all of the workers impacted, clearly stating the problem and what should be done to resolve it. Include a date for when you expect a resolution.

If this doesn’t work, you should progress with tactics that move into the terrain of direct action, starting with the least risky. Here are some direct-action tactics you could use. Remember that you can do so much more than strike!

Expect union-busting. Your employer will try to stop you from organising and campaigning, legally or illegally. This can take many forms: from hiring an “independent” consultant to kick issues into the long grass; getting workers and supervisors to organise against you; holding “captive audience” meetings; pressuring workers individually with sob-stories to guilt them out of taking action; and sometimes illegally dismissing you. Your workplace organising team needs to read up and be aware of the various tactics a boss will use and “inoculate” your colleagues so they are less effective. The Union-Busting Playbook is a fantastic resource that organisers should become well-versed with.

If you have manoeuvred around the union-busting and your campaign is successful, tell colleagues about it! These little victories not only make our work life easier, they give us confidence and show that we are not powerless! You can inform workers about wins in a subtle way, so that you do not bait the boss into retaliating against you. Though, of course, it is vital to continue to inoculate workers that the boss could start union-busting at any time. It is not worth telling the boss that “we are a union” until you cannot achieve anything else without needing to do so.

In this mini-series you have learned how to map your workplace, talk to colleagues about issues, and make a team to fight back! You now have the basic tools to build the power of the working class!

Get organising, fellow worker!

4. Bonus Tips for Organisers

The final article in our miniseries about the basics of workplace organising. Below is a list of additional hints and tips from experienced organisers. They should nicely compliment the organising method that you have learned from the previous pieces.

First, DO NO HARM!

This is the Hippocratic Oath for organisers. You are dealing with your own and your colleagues’ livelihoods. Be patient, do not take unnecessary risks.

Keep a DIARY!

Be consistent, be on time, and do exactly what you say you will do. Do not take on too much work for yourself, and do not make promises you cannot keep. It is better to work a little bit slower than to rush around and leave things unfinished.

Get people active.

Workers develop and grow confidence through activity. Is someone interested? Have a small task ready they can do (see our previous pieces about mapping and one-to-ones for ideas.) Do not patronise, but do not always presume they know exactly what to do either. Start with small, easy tasks and scale up.

Take co-workers where they are at.

Listen to workers and see where they are coming from. Do not presume to know their opinions and do not presume to know the reasons for them. Try not to totally write people off if they’re bad on something; chances are they can be moved…
However, you do not have to put up with bigotry or other abusive behaviour. If a colleague is being disrespectful, you could ask if a colleague who gets along with them can talk to them about it. Otherwise, it really is not worth the stress, move on and concentrate on better workers.

There is “recognition,” and there is RECOGNITION!

Being the official bargaining unit with “formal recognition” means literally nothing if workers cannot enforce it. However, if you are trading problems in exchange for better conditions and you have got your boss sweating, you are being recognised!

An Injury to One is an Injury to All.

The aim is to shift the balance of power from the boss to the workers. Helping someone with an individual case such as a disciplinary is important, but it will not change conditions overall. The boss needs to know an individual problem relates to everyone and that all of you will all cause trouble until it is resolved.
Be prepared for setbacks.

It will not always go to plan, but that’s okay. Be patient; workers, bosses, and opportunities come and go. Something out of the blue might tip the balance in your favour. Remember to keep inoculating so that setbacks are less harmful.

Be positive!

Have a sense of humour! Try to make organising a pleasant alternative to work itself. All workers know a lot about how grim the situation is, but there is no point dwelling on it. Try to be positive; your vision, humour, and conviction can convince workers that you all can win.

Organise the working class, not the Left.

When you are drawing up your social map, you can note whether someone has left-wing politics but there is not much to be gained from it. Certainly do not recruit a worker to the workplace organising team or the IWW merely on the basis of their leftist identity. The ‘apolitical’ or conservative-minded person you least expect might end up being a superb organiser, while the person who talks a big game might be bloody useless!

Quit the ideological bickering!

Similarly, do not get caught up in political / ideological / historical tiffs. Demonstrate your methodology through your activity. This is a general point for all organisers and activists; what Lenin or Kropotkin said on this or that means nothing if there is no organising going on!

Be specific.

Work towards clear, attainable goals with benchmarks and paths to success. Vague goals like “raising awareness” are pretty immeasurable. Organise around things that make people’s lives better. In addition, when you have clear goals it is easier to know what you have and have not achieved; take stock and enjoy the victory when it comes!

Build up and respect the collective process.

Work through disagreements together, even if it takes time and reflection. Plan things collectively. Organising teams are strong when they have a plethora of knowledge, experiences, and perspectives. Likewise, do not be afraid to disagree, just try not to be a dick about it!

Protests are naff.

At worst, they are depressing and disempowering acts of mass-begging. At best, they tend to preach to the converted and rarely engage a different audience. Do not fall into the trap of endless ‘protest hopping.’ There are plenty of possible direct actions you can do instead!

Remember to log-off!

Do not rely on social media to organise; your communications end up relying on algorithms and you might not know who has seen which message. Set up phone-trees, email lists, knock on doors (maybe not in a pandemic). Try the IWW’s own Wobchat or the Interwob Forum. Ultimately, nothing beats speaking to people directly, face to face! have published a really useful guide of common mistakes organisers make, and what you should do instead. Check it out!

Vague goals like “raising awareness” are pretty immeasurable. Organise around things that make people’s lives better. In addition, when you have clear goals it is easier to know what you have and have not achieved; take stock and enjoy the victory when it comes!

Guide to taking strike action

Tips and advice on how to effectively organise and carry out strike action at your workplace.

Our labour is the ultimate weapon that workers possess. Without workers bosses cannot make a profit. Strike action can be very powerful, but at the same time it, at the very least, reduces take home pay. More worryingly it may also lead to dismissal. Hardly, surprising therefore, that strike action is usually last resort taken of workers.

Now, in the much of the west nowadays, the vast majority of workers have very little experience of organising or being on strike. Here are some tips if you are forced to take such action and/or you are locked out by management.

While striking is sometimes necessary, on-the-job action, such as good work strikes, go-slows, or working-to-rule can be more effective.

Involving everyone

It is vital that all those on strike are directly involved in activities either in the form of picket duty, collecting cash, speaking or touring around, making contacts, speaking at meetings etc. These activities should not be confined to strike committees or more experienced members - by involving everyone this can help prevent boredom and stop isolation and demoralisation. Every striker should be encouraged to take part as it gives a purpose to the strike and helps make strikers class conscious. The most effective and inspirational way to involve all strikers is to regularly hold mass pickets.

Direct democracy

All strikers should be involved in the democratic running of the dispute through being on a daily basis. If tasks are rotated this should ensure that each striker builds up his/her organising experiences. As many decisions as possible should be made (and be seen to be made) when all strikers are present. If a list of peoples' specific skills are drawn up at the beginning of the dispute it can give strikers a start to organise from.

Here are some suggestions of skills and tasks to get things working for you - they may not all apply to your situation but all the issues in this list need to be considered:

  • Picketing
  • Visiting workplaces, community centres and trade union meetings to speak and raise money
  • Preparing resolutions for other union branch meetings
  • Organising petitions and financial collection groups for outside supermarkets, workplaces etc
  • Treasurer/s to oversee all monies coming in and being spent
  • Producing posters and leaflets and other publicity
  • A research team to investigate the company's finances, draw up a list of political contacts in other union branches, other unions, workplaces etc
  • A press co-ordinator to issue statements to the press (including left-wing press)
  • A welfare officer to attend to any striker's personal difficulties and to suggest forms of assistance - financial particularly but also legal assistance when someone is arrested and/or charged
  • Entertainments group - to organise fund-raising social nights. These can help draw in other workers, and demonstrate to strikers' families and friends they are also seen as part of the struggle.
  • Newsletter editors - a regular strike bulletin (daily if possible) is needed to let people know what is happening. This helps prevent rumours and can hold the strike together. The bulletin should encourage contributions from as many strikers as possible. This can be written and produced very quickly using Desk Top Publishing equipment if it is available.
  • Legal officer - especially when people have been arrested and are awaiting trial, such a person can assist solicitors in getting statements. S/he may also wish to try and get legal observers at the pickets - these can help put some pressure on the police to behave properly.
  • The most effective way to ensure direct democratic control of any dispute/strike action by those workers directly involved in it is to hold weekly (or more often) mass meetings. These should be used to discuss and democratically decide the conduct of the dispute and to elect people to run it on the striker's behalf between strike/dispute meetings.
  • A strike committee (or action group, or whatever name is decided) should be elected by a mass meeting and thereafter accountable to, and anyone replaceable by, another mass meeting, if the strikers decide this is necessary. This group will co-ordinate the day to day work created by the decisions at the mass meetings. Any posts or committees should also be democratically elected in this way - there should be no appointments. The strike committee should include a secretary (takes minutes and co-ordinates on going work), treasurer and a chair (for meetings).


If a strike is to last then finance should be sorted out as quickly as possible - those on strike are going to run out of money very quickly without any wages coming in. Official unions often set up fighting funds but if controlled by union officials, the money obviously can't be controlled by the strikers.

In 'official' disputes small amounts of strike pay can usually be arranged by the union but not in 'unofficial' disputes.

Part of the strike committee should be given the responsibility for raising funds. All monies must be controlled by the strikers themselves - if it is controlled by the union bureaucracy then disagreements over the strike or tactics can lead union officials to threaten the strike by withdrawing the funds.

Factory/workplace collections are the usual source of money. Appeals should also be made to unions and community organisations. The biggest collections are usually made when a striker has had the opportunity to speak to other workers. There is nothing as inspiring to other groups of workers as hearing from people on strike.

Every penny should be accounted for. Any distribution of the funds should be made in a way agreed at a mass meeting. This will often cause problems but it must be done and be seen to be done. A treasurer should be accountable to the strike committee in between mass meetings.


This usually involves strikers' bulletins, leaflets for the general public, translation of materials and articles in newspapers. This should include the left-wing press, anarchist and socialist, which will be supportive. The most important communication, however, is direct - from worker to worker. Public meetings, including street meetings, can also be used to gather support. Leaflets need to be printed in all relevant languages.

Official or unofficial

Even today most strikes are unofficial, and it is almost certain that any strike for union recognition will be 'unofficial.' In brief the terms are used to define strikes which are covered by trade union legislation (which will differ in different countries) and those that are not. Trade unions can have their assets sequestrated if they support a strike not covered by trade union legislation.

We would argue that it is not that important whether a strike is official or not, if a group of workers are forced to take strike action then they should be supported, full stop. If the union officials don't support this then tell them to get lost.

Full-time officials

There is a very long history of trade union officials initially giving support to a strike, offering help and assistance and then leaving the strikers to their own devices. It is essential that every strike committee should prepare their fellow members and strikers for this eventuality, financially, physically and psychologically.

This means that the strikers should organise independently of the union bureaucrats from the start and must seek to be self-supporting. Strikers need to be able to rely for aid and solidarity outside of the officials and bureaucracy.

The full-time official (usually appointed by other bureaucrats rather than elected by the workers) is supposed to represent and be under the control of the strikers. In reality, this rarely happens. The official's decisions will often (usually?) be what the union solicitor says is the best strategy, which in practice means anything is possible as long as it is within the anti-strike laws, or their interpretation of it.

Union officials will wish to avoid, at all costs any threat to the funds of the union. If union officials do attend strike meetings it should be made clear that s/he is a paid official and should therefore be expected to do as the members want - not the other way round. Beware: union officials sell out.

'Revolutionary' groups

These are not well supported at the moment. If they come and offer support demands should be placed on them and their members. They should be expected to respect strikers' wishes. Those that do respect strikers’ wishes usually find a better hearing for their ideas in times of discussions, particularly during difficult periods in the strike.

A strike must not be subordinated to boost the potential of a revolutionary group over the needs of the people on strike. Collection sheets and materials should be headed with the strikers' logo/slogan and not that of the revolutionary organisation. This makes good sense anyway - many people are reluctant to give to such groups, and are more willing to give to a group of strikers.

Direct action/solidarity/flying pickets and anti-union laws

It is essential to put a daily picket on the workplace(s) which is the source of the strike.
However, unless it is a very large workplace (involving hundreds of workers) then very few strikes are ever won by keeping the action confined to the workplace(s) at the core of the dispute - strikers will quickly become isolated and eventually defeated.

If it is obvious that the bosses are not budging within a couple of weeks, then this may mean having to dig in and prepare for a lengthy battle. Solidarity action is the key to winning such a struggle. This means involving workers in other workplaces, usually with the same employers and sometimes unions. But not always, as other workers in and out of unions, often with different employers, are used to produce goods or do work to offset the loss of production at the source of the strike.

By far the best and most effective way to win solidarity action is to picket the workplaces of the workers you want (and need) to involve. These are called flying pickets by militant trade unionists but secondary pickets by the bosses, who are shit-scared of them and wish to outlaw such solidarity action by the use of anti-union laws.

All full-time, repeat all full-time union officials, fall into line with the bosses and the State's laws when they are used or even threatened. In most cases the threat of action will usually result in the full-time official distancing him/herself from any strikers organising flying pickets.

If these laws are threatened or used then a strike can only be won if the striking workers and their supporters are prepared to defy the law, the bosses who use it and the trade union officials who will not break it.

'Break the law, not the strike, not the workers' movement - no state interference in the democratic running of a trade union or workers struggles.'

As picketing is so vital, then so is the control of workers on a picket line. Stewards should be elected by a mass meeting to control the conduct of all workers and their supporters on the picket line. If other workers are brought in to assist in picketing, then these people should be clearly identified by the strike committee on this basis and subject to the control of the same committee.

The strike committee must always retain the right to remove anyone from the picket line who they decide is acting contrary to the interests of the workers on strike and placing a dispute in jeopardy by their conduct. Drinking of alcohol should be banned on picket lines.

Contact should be established with sympathetic lawyers when a strike and picketing takes place, as action in the course of a strike could lead to harassment and arrest. Legal support is very important in such circumstances.

The building of permanent links between workers is vital during a strike - this is especially the case with workers in the same firm and/or industry - this will help in defeating future attacks on all workers.

Regular direct contact between workers, before, during and after a strike, can go a long way to breaking isolation and encouraging rank and file resistance.

Unemployed people and scabbing

To guard against scabs it is essential to work amongst unemployed people - alongside Claimants' Unions or groups - and, if possible, to organise them, so that unity of action can be established to fight threats to end their meagre benefits if they do not accept scab jobs.

Leafleting or picketing of dole or employment agency offices, especially when strikers’ jobs are being advertised, is vital. Unemployed people should be encouraged to get involved in the strike. In the SITA bin workers strike of 2001, supporters leafleted employment agencies and blockaded coaches filled with replacement staff.

Discussion meetings

Discussion meetings between workers on issues relevant to a strike should be organised during and after the strike. This will encourage discussion and aid in the development of new ideas and tactics to use during the strike.

At the end of the strike the experiences of the workers should be written down. Successes and failures should be analysed and then they can be used in future strikes. Strikers may not win their particular struggle, but they can help others to learn from their experiences and win the next time.


The most effective means of preventing the employer/company from resuming production during a strike, or of disposing of the premises and assets, is by occupying the plant or office. Unless the numbers on strike are very large then it is likely that 'outside' support will be needed, including from amongst the unemployed. Details, methods and planning can only be decided on the site and according to the circumstances prevailing. Occupations and work-ins were a major part of the struggles by trade unionists in Britain during the 60s and 70s.

Strike support groups

It is important that as soon as possible that an independent Strike Support Group is set up. The purpose of this is for strikers and supporters to decide how best to co-ordinate support for the strike. This Group must be accountable to the strikers and no actions which are not supported by the strikers should be initiated.

In conclusion

These are just some (very brief) suggestions and basic guidelines for the conduct (and hopefully success) of an industrial dispute or strike.

The essence of taking and winning strike action is to keep this completely under the direct control of the strikers themselves and independent of the trade union and political bureaucracies - large or small.

The real message is: to win a strike strikers have to be prepared to fight the full time union officials as well as all the other forces ranged against them. All full time officials will settle for something which is infinitely more in line with what the bosses want than what the workers have been or are struggling for.

Updated from Revolutions Per Minute issue 2 (published in1996) February 24th 2003
Edited by libcom

Wildcat or official strike action?

A discussion of the relative merits of official strike action or unsanctioned wildcat action. Wildcat action has the benefits of being outside the pro-employer union laws.

The best-known form of direct action is the strike, in which workers simply walk off their jobs and refuse to produce profits for the boss until they get what they want. This is the preferred tactic of bureaucratic unions but is one of the least effective ways of confronting the boss.

The bosses, with their large financial reserves, are better able to withstand a long drawn-out strike than the workers. In many cases, court orders will freeze or confiscate the union's strike funds. And worst of all, a long walk-out only gives the boss a chance to replace striking workers with a replacement, or "scab", workforce.

Workers are far more effective when they take direct action while still on the job. By deliberately reducing the boss's profits while continuing to collect wages, you can cripple the boss without giving some scab the opportunity to take your job.

Unofficial, or wildcat, action - that is, organised with other workers independent of union officials bypasses anti-union laws meaning there are no union funds to sequester and there is no obligation to provide the bosses with advance warning - giving them the opportunity to arrange scabs.

Direct action, by definition, means those tactics workers can undertake themselves, without the help of government agencies, union bureaucrats, or high-priced lawyers. Running to an Industrial Tribunal (or outside the UK the relevant arbitration board in your country) for help may be appropriate in some cases, but it is not a form of direct action, and they too are generally weighted in the bosses’ favour, taking up a great deal of time and money.

Listed here are some of the most popular forms of direct action that workers have used to get what they wanted. Yet nearly every one of these tactics is, technically speaking, illegal. Every major victory won by labour over the years was achieved with militant direct actions that were, in their time, illegal and subject to police repression. After all, for much of history the laws surrounding trade unions were simple - there were none. Strikers were routinely beaten and killed by police and soldiers and imprisoned with extremely harsh sentences.

After years of relentless struggle, the legal right of workers to organise is now officially recognised, yet so many restrictions exist that effective action is as difficult as ever. For this reason, any worker contemplating direct action on the job - bypassing the legal system and hitting the boss where they are weakest - should be fully aware of labour law, how it is applied, and how it may be used against labour activists. At the same time, workers must realise that the struggle between the bosses and the workers is not a badminton match - it is war. Under these circumstances, workers must use what works, whether the bosses (and their courts) like it or not. Listed in this section, then, are the most useful forms of direct action.

It is worth bearing in mind that the best weapon is, of course, organisation. If one worker stands up and protests, the bosses will squash him or her like a bug. Squashed bugs are obviously of little use to their families, friends, and social movements in general. But if all the workers stand up together, the boss will have no choice but to take you seriously. They can fire any individual worker who makes a fuss, but they might find it difficult to fire their entire workforce.

Solidarity is strength!

Edited by libcom from an article by the Industrial Workers of the World

Dual power at work

The best way to get something done is simply organise and do it ourselves. At work this can take the form of dual power strategies - workers making changes to their work environment without seeking management approval.

Rather than wait for the boss to give in to our demands and institute long-sought change, workers often have the power to institute those changes on our own, without the boss's say-so.

Some practical examples:
The owner of a San Francisco coffeehouse was a poor money manager, and one week the wage packets didn't arrive. The manager kept assuring the workers that the cheques would be coming soon, but eventually the workers took things into their own hands. They began to pay themselves on a day-to-day basis straight out of the cash register, leaving receipts for the amounts advanced so that everything was on the up-and-up. An uproar ensued, but the cheques always arrived on time after that.

In a small printing shop in San Francisco's financial district, an old decrepit offset press was finally removed from service and pushed to the side of the press room. It was replaced with a brand new machine, and the manager stated his intention to use the old press "for envelopes only." It began to be cannibalised for spare parts by the press operators, though, just to keep some of the other presses running. Soon enough, it was obvious to everyone but the manager that this press would never see service again.

The printers asked the manager to move it upstairs to the storage room, since by now it merely took up valuable space in an already crowded press room. He hummed and hawed and never seemed to get around to it. Finally, one afternoon after the printers had punched out for the day, they got a moving dolly and wrestled the press onto the elevator to take it upstairs. The manager found them just as they got it into the elevator, and though he turned livid at this blatant usurpation of his authority, he never mentioned the incident to them. The space where the press had been was converted to an "employee lounge," with several chairs and a magazine rack.

Workers in one London office thought it unfair that only smokers were allowed to take 5-10-minute breaks whenever they pleased, so decided that all workers should be entitled to these breaks. Without asking management or HR, staff decided to just start taking them, and inform new members of staff of this "rule".

There are thousands of similar examples - why not think about what changed you can make in your workplace? Often systems and rules de facto implemented by workers can be difficult for managers to challenge afterwards for fear of rocking the boat or damaging a "co-operative" atmosphere.

Edited and added to by libcom from an article by the Industrial Workers of the World

Go-slow guide

Instead of striking, workers with demands that the bosses are unwilling to meet can collectively decide to start a go-slow. This article contains tips and advice.

By deliberately slowing the rate of work, all together, the bosses' profits are hit, without workers losing wages. If everyone sticks together in solidarity victimisation of individuals can also be prevented.

The go-slow, or slowdown, has a long and honorable history. In 1899, the organised dock workers of Glasgow, Scotland, demanded a 10% increase in wages, but met with refusal by the bosses and went on strike. Strike-breakers were brought in from among the agricultural workers, and the dockers had to acknowledge defeat and return to work under the old wages. But before they went back to work, they heard this from the secretary of their union:

"You are going back to work at the old wage. The employers have repeated time and again that they were delighted with the work of the agricultural labourers who have taken our place for several weeks during the strike. But we have seen them at work. We have seen that they could not even walk a vessel and that they dropped half the merchandise they carried; in short, that two of them could hardly do the work of one of us. Nevertheless, the employers have declared themselves enchanted with the work of these fellows. Well, then, there is nothing for us to do but the same. Work as the agricultural labourers worked."

This suggestion was obeyed to the letter. After a few days the contractors sent for the union secretary and begged him to tell the dockworkers to work as before, and that they were willing to grant the 10% pay increase.

At the turn of the century, a gang of section men working on a railroad in Indiana were notified of a cut in their wages. The workers immediately took their shovels to the blacksmith shop and cut two inches from the scoops. Returning to work they told the boss "short pay, short shovels."

Edited by libcom from an article by the Industrial Workers of the World

Good work strike

Advice and tips on taking good work strikes. Good work strikes involve doing your job to help customers, not bosses and can involve distributing goods or services without demanding payment, and more.

Instead of a conventional strike, workers with demands that the bosses are unwilling to meet can collectively decide to have a good work strike.

One of the biggest problems for service industry workers is that many forms of direct action, such as go-slows, end up hurting the consumer (mostly fellow workers) more than the boss. One way around this is to provide better or cheaper service - at the boss's expense, of course.

Workers at Mercy Hospital in France, who were afraid that patients would go untreated if they went on strike, instead refused to file the billing slips for drugs, lab tests, treatments, and therapy. As a result, the patients got better care (since time was being spent caring for them instead of doing paperwork), for free. The hospital's income was cut in half, and panic-stricken administrators gave in to all of the workers' demands after three days.

In 1968, Lisbon bus and train workers gave free rides to all passengers to protest a denial of wage increases. Conductors and drivers arrived for work as usual, but the conductors did not pick up their money satchels. Needless to say, public support was solidly behind these take-no-fare strikers. Tram workers in Australia did likewise in 1990.

In New York City, USA, Industrial Workers of the World restaurant workers, after losing a strike, won some of their demands by heeding the advice of IWW organisers to "pile up the plates, give 'em double helpings, and figure the checks (bills) on the low side."

Edited by libcom from an article by the Industrial Workers of the World

Guide to sick-outs

Rather than call a conventional strike, the sick-in is a good way to strike without striking. Sick-ins involve organising workers to call in sick simultaneously.

The idea is to cripple your workplace by having all or most of the workers call in sick on the same day or days. Unlike the formal walkout, it can be used effectively by single departments and work areas, and can often be successfully used even without a formal union organisation.

It is the traditional method of direct action for public employee unions in the United States, which are legally prevented from striking.

At a New England mental hospital, just the thought of a sick-in got results. A shop steward, talking to a supervisor about a fired union member, casually mentioned that there was a lot of flu going around, and wouldn't it be too bad if there weren't enough healthy people to staff the wards.

At the same time - completely by coincidence, of course - dozens of people were calling the personnel office to see how much sick time they had left. The supervisor got the message, and the union member was rehired.

In Denmark in 2006, 100 pilots went on sick-in in solidarity with striking pilots, and in 1969, thousands of American air traffic controllers went on sick-out for better conditions and wages.

Edited by libcom from an article by the Industrial Workers of the World

Selective strikes

Rather than an all-out strike, rapid random stoppages can be highly effective. Here is some information about organising such selective, or lightning, strikes.

Unpredictability is a great weapon in the hands of the workers. In the US, Pennsylvania teachers used the Selective Strike to great effect in 1991, when they walked a picket line on Monday and Tuesday, reported for work on Wednesday, struck again on Thursday, and reported for work on Friday and Monday.

This on-again, off-again tactic not only prevented the administrators from hiring scabs to replace the teachers, but also forced administrators who hadn't been in a classroom for years to staff the schools while the teachers were out. The tactic was so effective that the Pennsylvania legislature promptly introduced bills that would outlaw selective strikes.

Firefighters have also struck just at certain times, just a couple of hours a day, losing the minimum pay but causing maximum disruption to management and potential strike-breakers.

Edited by libcom from an article by the Industrial Workers of the World

Sitdown strike or occupation guide

A guide to taking sit-down strike action or occupations, in which by suddenly refusing to work gains can be won rapidly.

A strike doesn't have to be long to be effective. Timed and executed right, a strike can be won in minutes. Such strikes are "sitdowns" or "occupations" when everyone just stops work and sits tight, or "mass grievances" when everybody leaves work to go to the boss's office to discuss some matter of importance. This can have many advantages over a conventional strike.

The Detroit Industrial Workers of the World employed the Sitdown to good effect at the Hudson Motor Car Company between 1932 and 1934. "Sit down and watch your pay go up" was the message that rolled down the assembly line on strikers that had been fastened to pieces of work. The steady practice of the sitdown raised wages 100% (from $.75 an hour to $1.50) in the middle of a depression.

IWW theatre extras, facing a 50% pay cut, waited for the right time to strike. The play had 150 extras dressed as Roman soldiers to carry the Queen on and off the stage. When the cue for the Queen's entrance came, the extras surrounded the Queen and refused to budge until the pay was not only restored, but tripled.

Sitdown occupations are still powerful weapons. In 1980, the KKR Corporation announced that it was going to close its Houdaille plant in Ontario and move it to South Carolina. The workers responded by occupying the plant for two weeks. KKR was forced to negotiate fair terms for the plant closing, including full pensions, severance pay, and payment towards health insurance premiums.

Edited by libcom from an article by the Industrial Workers of the World

Whistle-blowing guide

Sometimes simply telling people the truth about what goes on at work can put a lot of pressure on the boss. This page contains information on using information to winning improvements at work.

Consumer industries like restaurants and packing plants are the most vulnerable. And again, as in the case of the good work strike, you'll be gaining the support of the public, whose patronage can make or break a business.

Whistle blowing can be as simple as a face-to-face conversation with a customer, or it can be as dramatic as the P.G.&E. engineer who revealed that the blueprints to the Diablo Canyon nuclear reactor had been reversed. Upton Sinclair's novel The Jungle blew the lid off the scandalous health standards and working conditions of the meatpacking industry when it was published earlier this century.

Waiters can tell their restaurant clients about the various shortcuts and substitutions that go into creating the faux-haute cuisine being served to them. When their complaints about poor hygiene were ignored, IWW Starbucks union members in New York took photographs of rats and cockroaches in the coffee shop outlets and showed them to customers on picket lines.

On a related line - almost all businesses are very scared of a tax audit...

Just as working to rule puts an end to the usual relaxation of standards, whistle-blowing reveals it for all to know.

Whistle-blowers should be warned, however, that this carries a high risk of getting the sack - particularly in a small organisation - so be careful!

Edited by libcom from an article by the Industrial Workers of the World

Work-to-rule: a guide

A short guide to working to rule - taking industrial action without losing pay by following your work's rules so strictly that nothing gets done.

Instead of striking, workers with demands that the bosses are unwilling to meet can collectively decide to start a "work-to-rule".

Almost every job is covered by a maze of rules, regulations, standing orders, and so on, many of them completely unworkable and generally ignored. Workers often violate orders, resort to their own techniques of doing things, and disregard lines of authority simply to meet the goals of the company. There is often a tacit understanding, even by the managers whose job it is to enforce the rules, that these shortcuts must be taken in order to meet targets on time.

But what would happen if each of these rules and regulations were followed to the letter? Confusion would result - productivity and morale would plummet. And best of all, the workers can't get in trouble with the tactic because they are, after all, "just following the rules."

Under nationalisation, French railway strikes were forbidden. Nonetheless, rail workers found other ways of expressing their grievances. One French law requires the engineer to assure the safety of any bridge over which the train must pass. If after a personal examination they are still doubtful, then they must consult other members of the train crew. Of course, every bridge was so inspected, every crew was so consulted, and none of the trains ran on time.

In order to gain certain demands without losing their jobs, the Austrian postal workers strictly observed the rule that all mail must be weighed to see if the proper postage was affixed. Formerly they had passed without weighing all those letters and parcels which were clearly underweight, thus living up to the spirit of the regulation but not to its exact wording. By taking each separate piece of mail to the scales, carefully weighing it, and then returning it to its proper place, the postal workers had the office congested with unweighed mail on the second day.

Or imagine this: In the United States, BART train operators are allowed to ask for "10-501s" (toilet breaks) anywhere along the mainline, and Central Control cannot deny them. In reality, this rarely happens. But what would management do if suddenly every train operator began taking extended 10-501s on each trip they made across the Bay? Working to rule offers many possibilities for action, and if workers stick together they can win without losing any pay.

Edited by libcom from an article by the Industrial Workers of the World

Making the most of spontaneous rebellions at work

Advice on how to react when a big issue immediately angers a large number of people at your workplace, in order to try to organise effective action and build collective confidence for further disputes.

It would be nice if we always had tested and trusted structures in place able to respond to unexpected situations at work. Unfortunately this doesn’t describe many workplaces where structures tend to be weak and disorganised or slow and bureaucratic. The situations that upset us the most are likely to be unanticipated. Sudden rebellion is most likely to develop as a response to unexpected decisions or circumstances i.e. unfair sackings, shift changes etc, and our actions need often be rapid and ad hoc. What follows is a few tips on how to make the most of these spontaneous rebellions at work:

1. Act quickly. In our experience the response to such things needs to be very quick. If we wait to ask people to go to a meeting a few days later then the incident will no longer be at the forefront of people’s minds, the decision may have gained reluctant acceptance just by having been applied for some time, the initial fury will have passed, and so probably will the time to act.

2. Think carefully. Although we’ll need to be acting quickly we have to think carefully and responsibly, which can obviously be hard when we are likely to be really angry. Is what we’re doing going to lead to improvements or just lead to more job losses? Never is it more important to think as workers rather than political activists. Also, inform people as best you can, be honest about what the likely consequences of an action are and avoid giving people false hope.

3. Get everyone away from work. The next most important thing is to get everyone away from work, to stop doing the things we are supposed to be doing. Serving customers, answering phones, backing off coaches, stacking shelves, these things become ingrained responses and to get everyone to stop doing what they are supposed to be doing is a massive step that opens the door to various possibilities. As soon as we get away from work we are effectively on strike. Then they have to get us to go back and the longer we can stay away the harder that is likely to be. Also, don't be put off if you work somewhere with fewer staff. Small places can sometimes mean you have more chance of success. If two of you make up 2/3 of the workforce, management are going to be a bit stuffed if you start refusing to work. However, this might depend on how easy it is for them to bring in new workers at short notice.

4. Don’t talk to management. It is never a good idea in these early stages to enter into dialogue with management. It seems a very sensible thing to do but in doing so we inevitably get drawn back into the discourse of the company. It moves debate onto where they're strong; our strength is in our collective ability to stop working. Going to management makes us argue with them on their terms, not ours. In ten minutes of respectful dialogue you’ll go from refusing a decision with collective power to asking management if they could change their mind (please), and inevitably to submission. Also, don’t assume that going to a ‘good manager’ will bring you any more success. Even the ‘good manager’ can only act out company policy. Entering into negotiations with any set of bosses or bureaucrats stalls momentum and so is a bad move. Your best bet is to collectively refuse whatever decision has sparked off the rebellion.

5. Spread the struggle.
Try to spread the strike through the company and the geographical area you work in, across industry. Go to different parts of your workplace telling them what’s going on and try to get them out as well (or at least taking some sort of on-the-job action). This might seem an absurdly utopian suggestion but workers in a coffee shop in a bus station (for example) are inevitably going to be pissed off about something themselves and might join a spontaneous bus workers’ strike, bringing their own demands to it. Regardless, a failed attempt to involve them might make them go away and think about the idea of getting involved should the situation arise again (whether at their current job or somewhere else). It’s important to attempt to create a culture in which workers joining together in such a manner isn't seen as unusual.

Even when they aren’t totally successful, these sorts of revolts can make management back off quite a bit, or at least take a more soft line, which opens up a certain amount of space for workers. To put it bluntly, unless they're thick as shit management won't be causing trouble for a while. And this will be a direct result of your actions.

Sabotage in the workplace

Sabotage is the generic term for a whole host of tricks, deviltry, and assorted nastiness that can remind the boss how much he needs his workers (and how little the workers need them). Here are some examples

The term "sabotage" derives from French factory workers throwing their wooden shoes ("sabots") into machinery to jam them and stop production. Sabotage refers to all activities which workers can undertake to reduce production or rate of work.

These can be minor activities such as making personal phone calls on work time to major destruction of property or information.

While most severe monkey-wrenching tactics are non-violent, most of them are major social no-nos. They should be used only in the most heated of battles, where it is open wholesale class warfare between the workers and the bosses. Listed below are some examples of more major sabotage.

Disrupting magnetically-stored information (such as cassette tapes, floppy discs and poorly-shielded hard drives) can be done by exposing them to a strong magnetic field. Of course, it would be just as simple to "misplace" the discs and tapes that contain such vital information. Restaurant workers can buy a bunch of live crickets or mice at the local pet shop, and liberate them in a convenient place. For bigger laughs, give the Board of Health an anonymous tip.

One thing that always haunts a strike call is the question of scabs and strike breakers. In a railway strike in 1886, the scab problem was solved by strikers who took "souvenirs" from work home with them. Oddly enough, the trains wouldn't run without these small, crucial pieces, and the scabs found themselves with nothing to do.

Of course, nowadays, it may be safer for workers to simply hide these pieces in a secure place at the jobsite, rather than trying to smuggle them out of the plant. In a more modern setting, some IT engineers can make sure software they write only works with their consent.

Use the boss's letterhead to order a ton of unwanted office supplies and have it delivered to the office. If your company has a toll-free number, have all your friends jam the phone lines with angry calls about the current situation, or a Freepost address can be bombarded with heavy mail. Be creative with your use of superglue. The possibilities are endless.

There are many examples of workplace sabotage outlined in our library:
Edited by libcom from an article by the Industrial Workers of the World

Solidarity against sexism on the shop floor

IWW member Angel Gardner goes over some ways of fighting sexism in the workplace through direct action.

If there is anything that I have learned from working in the restaurant and retail industry for over 14 years, it is that sexual harassment and sexism in the workplace is an issue that has not gone away. Perhaps you have become more tolerant of being sexually objectified. Maybe you are afraid that being uncomfortable with sexual advances or comments means that you are a prude or hopelessly outdated. The reality is that sexual harassment and sexism are all about power. We feel uncomfortable about standing up for ourselves in these situations because to do so questions power relations; not only in the workplace, but in society in general.

Is it sexual harassment or sexism in the workplace?

• A district manager asks you and your 40-year old female coworker, “Will you girls make us some coffee for our meeting?”

• Your manager makes all the women in the workplace wear tight baby doll t-shirts which are intentionally a size too small that say, “For a Good Time Call ...” while the men are told to wear plain black polo shirts that do not have to be form-fitting.

• During your training at a retail clothing store, you are told to flirt with potential customers to make sales. You feel uncomfortable with this and despite your efforts to be proactive about sales in a professional way, you are pulled aside later for not being “friendly enough.”

• A conventionally-attractive regular customer often sits at the bar and stares at you throughout your shift and has made several comments about your appearance that make you uncomfortable. When you tell him to stop, he says that you should be flattered. Your boss fails to act and your other coworkers, who appreciate his attention, tell you that you are strange for not liking it.

The answer: If any of these policies, attitudes or behavior makes you feel uncomfortable, then you should not have to deal with it. Everyone’s comfort level is different. Some of your coworkers might not mind being called “girl” or “sweetie,” while others may take offense to being referred to as a “woman” or by any gender-specific pronoun. Different expectations for employee uniforms that force coworkers into stereotyped gender roles are sexist practices that create a potentially hostile workplace. Flirting with customers should never be a given, but a choice. Some people may find that they like the attention and get better tips by flaunting their appearance and flirting, but not everyone should have to interact in a similar fashion. Berating others for what makes them uncomfortable promotes an environment of harassment.

So you feel like a policy or an individual at work is creating a hostile work environment? Going the legal route is not always the best or solitary option. Collectively standing up together with your coworkers against sexist practices, policies or individuals can often be the safest and most powerful way to fight. Though it is technically illegal, it is easier for companies to retaliate against an individual than a group of workers. In addition, sexual harassment cases often result in companies dragging women through the mud and can prove to be very traumatic for the victim. Legal processes can take a long time to resolve, but taking direct action in your workplace is immediate. When workers come together to fight sexual harassment and sexism, we are empowered by taking back the workplace and at the same time, form closer bonds with our coworkers by building mutual trust and respect for one another.

How do I fight sexism and harassment in my workplace?

• Form a coalition with coworkers who share and/or are sympathetic to your concerns. Sexual harassment affects union and non-union members alike, so do not exclude any possible allies.

• Ban customers and clients who are repeat offenders from the store and make sure that the ban is being enforced by the rest of your coworkers.

• Confront your boss as a group about sexual harassment issues (perhaps even a definition) and make it known that you take it very seriously and so should they.

• Confront workers who refuse to support their fellow workers when they feel harassed, violated, or uncomfortable. Have one-on-one conversations about the impact of their actions (not respecting boundaries) and words (“it's not a big deal”), and express your feelings in a genuine, but professional manner.

• Any policy, dress code, or expectations that fellow workers find to be sexist should be addressed, regardless of whether or not you’ve reached consensus. If you are required by your job to wear a tight baby doll t-shirt, but men can wear polos, you should also be able to wear polo, if you do not want to wear the t-shirt.

Originally appeared in the March 2011 issue of the Industrial Worker. Taken from femenins

Solidarity against sexism on the shop floor.pdf217.61 KB

UK specific guides

Sections of our workplace organising guide specifically about employment in the UK.

UK specific guides.pdf424 KB

Employers who fail to pay employee tax and National Insurance

A guide for workers on dealing with employers who don't pay employee taxes or National Insurance. This can leave you unable to claim benefits if you become ill or unemployed.

Here’s a real case of fraud that the government does nothing to stop meaning that rip-off bosses keep getting away with it.

Many people are unaware of a problem until they become unemployed or sick and need to claim contributory-based benefits. They will be refused these benefits and cannot win their appeal if no National Insurance has been paid.

No one has to accept this situation. Employers should be warned, in writing, that the Inland Revenue could be called in to check their books and that this could result in a jail sentence for avoiding tax. This is normally enough to make them pay up. The best way to avoid this situation occurring in the first place is to get a P60 when you start work, insist on regular pay slips, both of which you have a right to.

If you work in a more lawless trade such as the building industry legal avenues may not be as easily accessible, in which case there is always direct action. As the saying goes, if you are knocked, knock it down! It’ll make then think twice before ripping the next poor bugger off.

Written by the Walthamstow Anarchist Group

Health and safety - the basics

Health and safety is important, this page is to help you know your rights.

Every year in the UK, over 20,000 workers are killed by their work. 246,000 workplace accidents are reported each year, and 1.2 million people believe they are suffering from a work-related illness. 1

All employers should:

▫ Provide safe and healthy working conditions;
▫ Provide proper information and training for everyone in all types of workplaces;
▫ Draw up and circulate procedures for dealing with risks at work;
▫ Inform all workers of Health and Safety agreements, policies and practices before we start work.

Health and safety in the workplace costs money and time and hits profits, so bosses inevitably try to avoid their legal responsibilities. By law, they have to provide health and safety for all workers in their employment.

Remember, you have a legal right to walk off the job if you feel in imminent danger.

Casualisation Kills

Almost two million of us are now employed on a temporary basis. Hundreds of us die through work each year and many more are seriously injured. The vast majority of cases are easily preventable. Millions suffer crippling back pain, repetitive strain injuries and many other long-term injuries and illnesses simply because employers put profits first.

All workplaces are potentially dangerous and all work can kill - and the most vulnerable are temporary and agency workers.

The majority of temporary and agency workers are not self-employed but employees, with similar rights to other workers. However, our rights to basic Health and Safety are often neglected or totally ignored.

After only two hours on the job, Simon Jones, an agency worker in Brighton, was beheaded by a crane on Shoreham Docks. He had been sent to his death with no training or care for his life. This is just one shocking example among countless.

Recently, the courts fined a company just £6,000 for breaches of safety laws that led to a worker s death - so, £6,000 is the price of life at work in the UK today.

On average in the UK, 85 construction workers lose their lives in what the government say are mostly predictable and preventable incidents caused by some failure of management by employers (Tony O'Brien, Construction Safety Campaign).

For example: UK construction workers killed in 6 weeks in April/May 2003: 1 death each in Herefordshire, Bedford, Salisbury, Hillingdon, Staffordshire, Leicestershire & Leeds. 2 deaths each in Essex & Durham. 3 deaths in Wales. The youngest victim was aged just 17.

These are not just statistics, these are real people who met tragic and generally violent deaths, leaving families and friends going through the horror of bereavement.

Only by standing together can we prevent bosses from intimidating and victimising us. We cannot leave it to the Government, the bosses, political parties, or the established trade unions. The most effective way of defending our rights is by organising ourselves and taking collective direct action. By forming our own groups where everyone is equal, we can resist exploitation and enforce our rights at work effectively.

Defending our rights is just the start. Once we achieve this, we can start to take the initiative.
An injury to one is an injury to all!
:> Read more about your rights at work...

Edited by libcom from a leaflet by the Solidarity Federation.

Key employment rights

Knowing your rights: The stuff your boss doesn't want you to know. A brief guide to your rights at work in the UK as of 2003-4.

Please note that do not have time to keep this guide continuously updated. We will keep this out of date guide up for reference, but recommend that people instead checkout a proper workers' legal rights resource like for current legal information.

Regardless of work status (temporary or permanent, agency, full or part-time) or our contracts of employment, most of us have certain basic rights. These include:

1. The right to be told in writing how much and when we are to be paid.
Minimum pay is £4.50 per hour from October 2003 (up from £4.20). For 18-21 year olds it is £3.80 (up from £3.60). For agency workers, wages must be paid on the agreed day even if the hiring company has not paid the agency.

2. The right to at least 4 weeks paid leave per year.
Any employment contract should set out leave entitlements. If it doesn’t, then 4 weeks must be given (which can include public holidays). All workers, agency workers, homeworkers, trainees, so-called casuals and most freelancers are included in this. Holiday entitlement starts immediately, e.g. on day 1, we get 2 days leave, and, after 6 months, we get 10 days (for part-time workers it is less and it applies to jobs started since October 2001). NB many workplaces now sidestep this by allegedly factoring in holiday pay to your wages, thereby meaning you will lose money by taking the time off owed to you.

3. The right to breaks of at least 20 minutes during each 6 hours of work.
We are entitled to at least 11 hours rest in each 24 hours and a minimum of a day a week off. Rest breaks for under 18s are minimum 30 minutes every 4 1/2 hours.

4. The right to refuse to work any more than 48 hours each week.
We cannot be forced to work over 48 hours per week unless we have agreed to it in writing (note that this is averaged over any 17 week period, so we can be forced to do more in any one week).

5. The right to sick pay when we are ill.
We are entitled to statutory sick pay if we normally earn over £77 per week and we have been working for over 3 months (or are deemed to have been in continuous employment for 13 weeks).

6. The right to maternity/paternity leave when we have children.
From April 2003, most mothers are entitled to 26 weeks paid maternity leave and an additional 26 weeks unpaid leave. To get maternity pay, we must earn over £77 per week and have been working for over 6 months by the time the baby is 15 weeks from being due. For the first 6 weeks, this should be 90% of average earnings, then a flat rate of £100 for 20 weeks. If pay can t be claimed, Maternity Allowance may be claimed from the DSS. Fathers/male partners get 2 weeks paid paternity leave (subject to the same qualifying conditions as for maternity).

7. The right to be free from harassment.
We are all entitled to a workplace where there is no racial or sexual harassment, bullying, prejudice or discrimination. Agency and part-time workers have the same rights as full-time workers.

8. The right to defend ourselves.
We all have the right to protection from dismissal for asserting our statutory employment rights. We also have the right to join with our fellow workers and organise ourselves collectively, and to join a trade union.

9. The right to refuse work that is unsafe or where training is not provided.
We all have the right to refuse to work if we find ourselves in imminent danger. Also, laws governing agencies mean they should not send us to jobs for which we are not qualified, and they must ensure that proper training is provided.
libcom arrow for bullet points Read more about Health and Safety...

Standing Up for Ourselves
Casualisation and so-called flexible working are ways of undermining working conditions and exploiting us more than ever. They also make permanent jobs more vulnerable. So casualisation does not only affect temporary and agency workers, but all workers.

Employers will sack workers they do not like, knowing full well that many are reluctant or unable to go through an employment tribunal. It is not enough having a few statutory and contractual rights at work - we need to stand together to ensure that the rights long fought for are respected.

Only by standing together can we prevent bosses from intimidating and victimising us. We cannot leave it to the Government, the bosses, political parties, or the established trade unions. The most effective way of defending our rights is by organising ourselves and taking collective direct action. By forming our own groups where everyone is equal, we can resist exploitation and enforce our rights at work effectively.

Defending our rights is just the start. Once we achieve this, we can start to take the initiative.
An injury to one is an injury to all!

Edited by libcom from a leaflet by the Solidarity Federation.

Community organising

Information, guides and tips on organising around issues which affect you and other people living in your local area.

Community organising.pdf403.55 KB

Building Mutual Support and Organising in Our Communities

A pamphlet collecting stories and organising tips from the London Coalition Against Poverty, published in 2014.

Building-mutual-support-LCAP-Pamphlet-2014.pdf820.87 KB

Door knocking guide

Tips for effectively carrying out door-knocking visits and talking to people in your local area.

In community politics, door knocking plays an essential role. From just getting to know your neighbours better, to carrying out a local survey or trying to sign people up to a local campaign or petition talking to people at home is a valuable exercise, due to its face-to-face nature,

However, it can be a daunting task, so we put together a set of tips to help you on your way, with pre-planning and then how to act on people’s doorsteps.

Before you go

  • Never go out on a rainy day, people are put off if you look like a drowned rat or are covered with a hood, hat or umbrella
  • Similarly, avoid going out if you are ill.
  • Dress smartly; not necessarily suited but ironed and clean. Don't look like a burglar or bailiff - people are less likely to answer the door to someone wandering up their drive with a big hood or black hat and scarf...
  • It's best to start organising with your closer neighbours, so you have a basic trust already.
  • The best time to go knocking is during daylight hours. It is best not to go around dinner time. Yes people will be home, but they won’t be happy to talk. Similarly, don't go just after work, people need at least half an hour to relax before doing anything like talking to strangers.
  • It's always good to have a clip board in you hand - even if you don't really need it, take one with some leaflets on.
  • The resident’s first point of eye contact is either your face or the clipboard so always make sure that your group or campaign’s header is present and clearly visible on the board.
  • Depending what sort of thing you're doing it could be useful to have two sets of leaflets, one for people who are out or answer the door and tell you they've got no time and a separate one for people who are more interested.
  • If you have enough time it is worth calling back to houses that didn’t answer the first time. Just make sure that you keep an accurate record of which houses you spoke to people in or else you'll end up calling on the same person several times and they'll get pissed off.....
  • Bring a sheet to note down the contact details of particularly interested people.
  • Some people have put a card through the doors of the areas to be visited announcing the time they'll be along - if people don't want to talk they can just put the card in the window to indicate they're not interested. While time-consuming this can be worthwhile.
  • If you're leafleting for a 'controversial' issue (e.g. anti-fascist) then start at the top of a tower block, otherwise you may have to walk down past hostile people who might have been alerted by your leaflets.

At the door

  • Say the most important thing first. Avoid apologising for bothering them in the first sentence – people prefer you get to the point of why you're calling.
  • The person opening the door won't want to hear too much complicated stuff in the first minute or so leave aside complicated explanations in favour of making a good first impression
  • If you seem confident and relaxed, so will they - if you're nervous and tense then they will also tend to react defensively.
  • Use inclusive gestures, open stance - never cross arms while you speak, or stand like you are about to leave for example.
  • Don't be intimidating, and don't approach the door in a big group. Knocking in pairs is usually the best format, for not overwhelming people, for your security and also so you have some company and can get feedback from each other on how it went.
  • Remember to smile; don't go if you're in a bad mood. People always pick up on it.
  • Look people in the eye, use a strong handshake – it makes you seem more trustworthy.
  • Always be honest about what you know and don't know - don't flannel to sound more informed.
  • Know your script, and answers to frequently asked questions, so you don't fumble your words when asked.
  • It sounds silly, but your knocking style is important. If you sound too official, people may not come to the door.
  • Behave from the moment you touch the gate - people often hear it and will check you through the curtains. Close the gate behind you, and don't walk on the grass. Close the gate behind you when you leave as well.


You shouldn't be nervous about knocking on people’s doors. Most people are very nice even if they're not interested in what you have to say. It helps if you have a leaflet to give people because then you can refer to it, point out the date and venue of a meeting etc. Also if what you're trying to organise is local and for the good of the community then you have an immediate advantage over most people who are door-knocking for other reasons.

Once you've knocked on a few doors and got some feedback it's plain sailing usually, although don't be disappointed if all the people who seemed enthusiastic don't actually turn up to a meeting or event.

Last of all, enjoy it! It's a great buzz when you get into it, and a great way to get to know people in your community.
With tips from the users of and the Festival of Dissent, 2005

Get Up and Get Going: How to Form a Group

Becoming radicalized in a small town by yourself, seemingly in the “middle of nowhere,” can often be one of the most difficult experiences you may ever encounter. But even harder than the feeling of being adrift can be the desperation of not knowing how to go about attempting to make the leap from being just an individual with a set of ideas to someone that is part of a movement and specifically, a group of people who are organized in a set area, acting in concert, with that movement.

While this column will be written in a way that assumes that the reader is located in a place without other anarchist, anti-authoritarian, or autonomist groups, hopefully it will also have some good advice for anyone that is looking to start a project or group of any sort, regardless of what the overall terrain looks like around you.

In today’s age, where the internet has taken up more and more of what social movements and struggles are based around, the need to have a presence on the streets and in our neighborhoods, is now greater than ever.

Before Getting Started

Before you begin to form a group (in this context, group is going to refer to everything from an organization, a project, a crew, to any sort of collective attempt at doing something), it’s good to keep a few things in mind, and also to look around your general region for different examples of ways to organize, how to intervene, and things that other groups are doing, building, and working on.

First, it’s always good to go back and read and study the history of your region. Who were the original people that lived on the land that you now live on? How did they respond and fight back against colonization? Are their descendants still in the local area? What is the history of past movements, from labor to civil rights to the fight against the war in Vietnam? Are there examples of riots, strikes, and occupations that shaped your town? How have people historically responded to the police, to pollution, environmental racism, and ecological destruction? The results of a few internet searches, calls to local union halls, and trips to the library, may surprise you.

Second, it’s probably worth it to check out the groups that are in your town and also general region. If there’s a university and junior college, see what is happening on campus. Are there groups of people putting on film showings and discussions in town? Are there hold overs from past movements still meeting that before you didn’t know about. This goes for reactionary and far-Right forces as well; as their presence will of course impact your ability to organize. Looking into what is happening in towns around you may also be worth your while. For instance, finding a group of people in a town 45 minutes away might not lead you to find a group of people you might organize with, but it might give you an idea of what people in a somewhat similar context are doing in their own location. The point in doing all of this background research is to see if there are other people out there that like you – are looking for something else.

Third, it's good to have an understanding of your local context and what the primary tensions and contradictions are within daily life of the general area that you inhabit. This can change, neighborhood to neighborhood, but in general you need to know who holds wealth and power in your area and what their interests are, and how they are attempting to shape and control the area around them. You also need to map out how this is causing tensions to arise; and how people, if at all, are responding.

This can mean everything from gentrification and police sweeps of the homeless to the closing of schools and manufacturing plants to pipeline projects and simply generational abject poverty. Reading the local news daily, while understanding its real limits, will also help in this regard. Chances are, you already know that your town has a history of being polluted by the XYZ plant, that the opioid crisis has ravaged the region, or that the biggest issue is lack of affordable housing, etc. The reason that you need to think strategically about these realities is that by doing so this can and will inform how you may be able to respond to them.

A big mistake that some people new to organizing make is that they simply try and jump into what group they most closely associate with; often networks and organizations that are already established across the US. This means that folks often with no experience suddenly set up IWW chapters when they have no history of actual labor organizing, and often times, just sit around in meetings until after 6 months to a year, the project folds. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t start an IWW, Redneck Revolt, Earth First!, or Anarchist Black Cross group, but only to point out that as you find people and begin to get organized, the work you end up doing may be completely different than the original project that you had in mind. Also, there’s nothing stopping you from later on incorporating aspects of these other groups into your organizing: from letter writing nights, to labor organizing, to learning how to use firearms properly.

Final point, the biggest pot hole that many new people get stuck into is that of social media. In short, setting up an account won’t magically make a real life group appear. And while running a Facebook page for “XYZ Town of Anarchists” might be a great way to meet some people, if all you do is share memes and links about things happening elsewhere, as opposed to going out and starting projects and organizing, then what’s the point? If you set up accounts, use them to boost that you are doing and to hopefully find new people, but don’t mistake a page for actually being organized.

Building a Crew

If we are operating from the idea that you are essentially alone in the project of building a group of people you can being to organize with and take action along side of, then you’re going to have to work at finding like minded folks – and trust us, they are out there. For instance, for every mail order IGD ships out to a Portland or Brooklyn, we ship probably twice as much to towns and cities we’ve never heard of. So rest assured, people are out there, and generally they are just as isolated, alienated, and looking to connect with other people as you are.

So then, you’ll need to think of ways of creating opportunities for you and potential comrades to meet. In general, here are some ideas:

*Organize A Low Key Event:

One of the easiest things to pull off in order to ‘test the waters’ of your local area, is to organize an event to see if curious and like minded people show up. One of the simplest events you can organize is to host a film screening, for instance of an episode of Trouble from the folks at Sub.Media. As they have films that cover a wide variety of topics, you should be able to find one that fits your personal context. If you’re looking for a place to hold a screening in order to avoid bad weather, generally places like public libraries are cheap to rent out and easy to set up. If weather permits, you might want to do it outside in a public park, just make sure to figure out a screen, sound, and power before hand. Also, make sure that you put a lot into actually promoting the event. Make flyers and do a social media campaign. Make sure you get the word out in all the different working class neighborhoods in your general area. Put up flyers at schools, corner stores, health food stores, smoke shops, at the library, barbershops, tattoo parlors, coffee shops, etc. You may also want to use this opportunity to set up a social media account to promote your event, such as “AUTONOMY [Name Of Town]” etc.

*Table With Literature:

Tabling is a time tested way to meet other folks face to face. What you’ll need is a table and also literature. Check out our store for a few packs of zines and stickers you can get and hit up groups like CrimethInc. to see what they offer. Look around at different online distros for more stuff to print out and get creative. Choose places to table with high foot traffic such as flea markets, college campuses, music events and shows, farmer’s markets, busy Downtown areas, and beyond. Then there’s also places such as the DMV or the Food Stamps office where large amounts of people are stuck at all day, often looking for something to read. Carry around en email sign up sheet with you and add people as you go to a mailing list.

*Host a Skillshare:

If hosting a film screening or tabling with literature isn’t your idea of a good way to meet potential comrades, you might also consider hosting something less overtly political and more based around sharing a skill, such as learning herbal remedies and learning how to grow your own food. Events like this appeal to a wide variety of people and often are very popular.

*Create A Publication/Broad Sheet/Poster Campaign:

If you’re looking to do something different that may take a while to build, you may want to go the publishing route. Creating a local magazine or broadsheet that presents an anarchist analysis and critique of the local news is one idea. Check out War on Misery from St. Louis to get inspired. You could also do simply a one off broad sheet, (11″ by 17″ double sided print) or even just put up posters that include a contact email. By setting up a network of free boxes you can increase your distribution range, while also dropping off copies at places like the library or at liquor stores.

*Start a Reading Group:

Reading groups offer a way to bring together people both interested in radical ideas with people already well versed in them in a low key environment that lets people get to know each other and build relationships. The idea behind them is fairly simple: to read as a group a text and then discuss it. People may also find it easier to read a text out loud as a group as opposed to reading it at home and then discussing it the week after, but the choice is yours.

With these set of ideas, we think you should be off to a good start. Keep experimenting and applying these suggestions to your own local context. Don’t be afraid to try something new as well.

Organizing, Intervention, Mutual Aid, Infrastructure, and Base Building

So you’ve read about your town and general area’s history. You understand the terrain around you and have also mapped out the key contradictions. You’re up on “local politics” and have your ear to the ground. You’ve also branched out, organized a few events, and against all odds managed to meet a few people that want to do something with you. The next question is: so now what? How you answer that question will depend on the kind of group that you want to build. What follows are some general concepts to help you think about what direction you could go in.

*Base Building:

All good organizers should be engaging in some form of base building – the idea behind it is that you are putting work into the building of relationships with people, neighborhoods, and communities that you want to have a greater connection to. This could mean choosing to table at the local flea or farmer’s market every week, organizing an antifascist patrol of a set area against fascist activity, to simply spending a lot of time in a neighborhood making connections with people who live there.

*Mutual Aid:

Many groups engage in a wide variety of mutual aid projects, from providing community meals like Food Not Bombs, to organizing events like Really (Really) Free Markets, to free brake light clinics, to free grocery programs and free stores. Mutual aid projects can often be an easy thing to engage in within your wider community, as they are a “positive” activity and generally will win you support and respect of those around you. They also are very labor intensive and very quickly you will discover who is actually down to put in work, and who isn’t. At their heart, mutual aid programs can address real needs and problems directly while also creating a project that is easily accessible for new comers.


Organizing of course is a broad term, but essentially we are referring to initiatives in which people build up a material force which can collectively engage in class combat; to assert working class interests in the face of capital and State authority. Examples of this include tenants unions and associations, fighting pipeline and fossil fuel infrastructure, workplace organizing, and solidarity networks.


To speak of intervention means the process in which we insert ourselves in wider tensions already happening all around us. This means analyzing and understanding our local context, and then thinking strategically about how one could intervene within it to deeper one’s own position. This could mean everything from poster and banner campaigns in the wake of sweeps against the homeless that seek to gentrify a Downtown corridor, to mobilizing free groceries for striking workers to offer in solidarity.


Lastly, there is the question of how to sustain this activity? The answer lies largely in the creation of autonomous infrastructure. This could mean the building up of land projects and cooperative housing, to the purchasing of copy machines and printing presses; essentially everything that we need to deepen ourselves as a material force.

What Happens Next?

You’ve come a long way. From someone with big ideas to part of a fighting community. The question now is – what’s next? What’s next is that you make connections and relationships with more people in your general region and begin the process of networking and federating together, becoming stronger as a regional force.

Until next time.

This can change, neighborhood to neighborhood, but in general you need to know who holds wealth and power in your area and what their interests are, and how they are attempting to shape and control the area around them.
It's Going Down

How To Set Up An Anti-Raids Group

A zine produced by Haringey Anti-Raids in 2018

About this Zine
Since September 2016, Haringey Antiraids has been organising to challenge immigration raids in our area, as one small step towards a world without borders and prisons, where no one is illegal.

Through weekly street stalls in Seven Sisters, we have built a visible and trusted presence in the area and developed strong links of mutual support with many local migrant groups. We believe not only that this work could be easily replicated across the country, but that it is desperately needed. This is why we have created this zine, to share the lessons we have learned through 18 months of local organising in the hope of seeding similar groups elsewhere.

Of course, an organised local group such as ours is just one part of a much wider fabric of resistance to immigration raids, which takes many different forms. A representative from the Immigration Services Union acknowledged in 2015 that ‘immigration enforcement jobs are disrupted to a greater or lesser extent pretty much every week’. However we do believe that local groups play an important role in building cultures of solidarity, sharing practical advice on resisting raids and providing a visible anti-racist and pro-migrant presence on the streets.

We hope this zine provides a useful insight into our group’s principles and tactics, and aids others to begin organising against raids in their local area.

How to Set Up An Anti-Raids Group

What’s happening locally

One of the first steps is to find out what immigration enforcement is happening in your area. It’s important to get a picture where raids are happening, and who is being targeted. Some strategies we’ve found useful are talking to shopkeepers, placing FOI requests, monitoring online reports of immigration raids (e.g.
@AntiRaids on twitter).

Building a group

First thing you need for an anti-raids group is people to organise with. One option is to put out an open call-out and organise a public meeting. In Haringey Anti-Raids case, this took the form of an open “Raids Resistance Training” – something that was also used to gauge interest in a local anti-raids group. Most established anti-raids groups will help you facilitate a training event.

Another strategy is to organise (initially, at least) via a pre-existing affinity group (e.g. a group of your friends or neighbours or an existing political or social group). This certainly short-cuts some of the initial challenges of forming a group, but can make it harder to grow beyond your initial core.

What do you want to do

Strategies for resisting raids vary dramatically depending on groups. Some groups focus on physically resisting immigration raids, others on spreading information to ensure that people targeted by immigration raids are able to assert their legal rights. Diversity of tactics is good and no-one should feel that wanting to take a less (or more) militant approach makes them wrong.

The key things to consider when discussing approaches are capacities of members of the group as well as the sustainability of any action. If your group stops one raid through direct action and then has to suspend all other activity to spend the next year doing legal support, that might not necessarily be the most effective approach. Sometimes small-scale, replicable, sustainable activity can be more effective than dramatic direct action.

Setting Up A Street Stall

Setting up a street stall is useful to build awareness of immigration raids, to provide information about legal rights and to link up with people who may be willing to help challenge them.
There are a number of resources that we have found very useful in disseminating information and helping people who are the targets of raids. We’ve taken many of these resources directly from the wider Anti Raids Network, while others we’ve made or bought ourselves.

  • A trestle table. Without a table it’s difficult to run a stall.
  • Rights cards. These cards have information on them about how to resist raids, what your rights are when you’re being stopped by immigration enforcement, and how to avoid engaging with them.
  • Leaflets about local raids. These leaflets explain the links between immigration enforcement, police, and gentrification in the local area, and are a good way of starting up a conversation.
  • NO CONSENT notices. These are signs that shopkeepers can put in their shop, withdrawing consent for immigration officers or police to enter the shop without a warrant.
  • Information for other services. People will regularly come to your stall with problems that you cannot directly help them with, but will want to support. It could be anything from the need for an immigration lawyer or advice on their immigration status, to an issue with housing or the police. Perhaps even consider doing a joint stall with another group. We’ve found our regular stalls with Food Not Bombs North London have helped us to speak to people who would otherwise perhaps have been reluctant to stop.

Problems you might encounter

  • Distrust. Remember: they don’t know you from Adam. They live in a country where immigration is endlessly under attack in the media. Why should they trust you? The best thing you can do when you encounter this problem is to be honest about your agenda, and keep at it. It may be that for the first few months you will encounter general distrust, but the longer you work at it, the more likely it is that they will begin to see you’re not just a chancer or a cop, but are there for the long-run, are interested in fighting the same things as them, and can be of help.
  • Hassle. Occasionally you’ll get hassle from over-zealous council officials or even police. One thing worth noting is that you are not selling anything, merely giving out political materials which is theoretically protected under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to freedom of expression) so just be confident and don’t let them distract you from why you are there.
  • Disagreement. This is not a problem - it’s important to have proper discussions with people about borders, xenophobia, capitalism and so on. But be prepared for this - it might be worth thinking about common arguments you hear about borders (‘limits’, the need to abide by the law etc.) and consider discussing these common arguments within your group first, to be better prepared to discuss these issues when you’re on the street.
  • Pessimists. Beware of suggesting that the law is some magical formula that will protect us if only we know it well enough. People are well aware that knowing the law on its own will be no help. It’s important to emphasise the necessity of direct action, solidarity and community resistance. Point to examples of successes of these.
  • Cancellations. An online spreadsheet, simple email ‘cc’ list, messaging app or simply exchanging numbers with people from your group are good communication tools to ensure a couple of people are down to cover the stall each week and that you can cancel at the last minute in the event of bad weather.
  • Complaints. Some people will be very happy to moan at you about ‘illegals’ coming over here, taking our jobs, our benefits etc. The first thing to remember here is that many people in the UK are undocumented, which doesn’t mean they are not entitled to documentation. The line between legal/illegal is a blur. Another argument to put forth is that the government is moving the goal post continuously so one day you might be legal and the next you are not anymore. Solidarity and resistance are the only way to counter that.
    Finally, for all the “good citizens” out there, the government breaks its own law all the time. Charities working with migrants have to constantly appeal unlawful decisions, taken by local authorities, the Home Office, etc.


Another thing you can do is offer workshops on raids for local community groups. It is worth taking a bit of time to find out what migrant community groups exist in your area. From our experience, the most fruitful and long-lived links were with self-organised migrant groups with strong political consciousness, Nevertheless, there may be other groups and NGOs with members or users who are interested or could benefit from a meeting or skillshare. Local groups could include community centres, migrant centres, churches, mosques, temples or anything that has a built in group of users who might be impacted by raids.

The best workshops tend to be those that begin with more of a meeting and sharing of experiences and emotions arising from raids, that then evolve into a short explanation of key principles about the law and people’s rights (and we mean short - there is only so much people can retain about the law, especially in a crowded room of 40 people while working through an interpreter), and most importantly, role play. Role play is critical to allow people a forum to practice both their English and their confidence.

Workshops take a bit of thought, as we have to teach ourselves about it first, and also need to make sure there is an interpreter where necessary. But it can be a good way of building links, and spreading knowledge about people’s rights and opportunities to resist raids.

This has been made even easier since the creation of a publicly-accessible slideshow complete with notes. The important thing to note is that the law is not very developed in this field and there are a lot of grey areas. Some people may be looking for easy answers about the law, but there aren’t many. Another thing to emphasise is that it is not enough just to know the law, as immigration officers frequently abuse their powers. The only way we can reduce the prevalence of raids is to come out in force and show solidarity with people when they are being harassed by immigration officers.

Opposing raids when they happen

Opposition to raids can take a number of different forms dependant on lots of variables, including the kind of raid happening and the number and capacities of people willing to oppose. There is no pre-set formula for how to resist a raid, or for the outcome that resistance will produce. It is therefore important to use discretion and forethought when opposing raids, weighing up the consequences that your actions are likely to produce. Here are a few potential actions you could think about taking:

  • Give information to the person being questioned. Most people do not know or understand their rights when confronted with an Immigration Enforcement officer. Officers generally have very few powers to question or detain, and so letting the person being interrupted this information (usefully explained on the Anti-Raids rights cards) can potentially make a massive difference - giving them the confidence to refuse to answer questions or simply walk away.
  • Film the Immigration Enforcement Officers. Filming officers puts extra pressure on them to do their jobs according to the law, and not overstep their powers. It also means you have a useful record of what happened in case the legality of the raid is challenged at a later stage. When doing this it is best to explain to the person being interrupted that you are not going to film them, and that you are on their side.
  • Encourage other people to intervene as well. The more people willing to stand up to the Immigration Enforcement officers, the harder it will be for them to do what they set out to do, and the fewer people are likely to be detained or deported. The knock-on effect is also important: if a raid that was expected to take half an hour takes two hours, then that means fewer hours in the day to harass immigrants for the officers you’re holding up: that’s a success.
  • After the raid. Often the best time to go and talk to local residents, shoppers, and shopkeepers. Inform them that a raid has happened (if they didn’t know already), give them the information cards on their rights during an immigration stop, and encourage them to use an emergency raid alert system, if have one.

What is the Anti-Raids Network

Every day people are resisting immigration raids in their homes, workplaces and neighbourhoods. The aim of the Anti Raids Network (ARN) is solely to gather and spread information which could be used to oppose raids. Information includes alerts about raids, practical and legal resources, and stories and examples of resistance.

This is not the only initiative

ARN does not claim to organise or speak on behalf of those involved in this struggle against raids. Indeed, most of the people resisting raids will never have heard of ARN. ARN welcomes the creation of new initiatives against raids.

Diversity of tactics

People fight raids in many different ways. To give just a few examples: giving out legal information in different languages; running info-stalls to talk about raids in our neighbourhoods; gathering neighbours to challenge raid squads; helping people at risk to get away; physically stopping arrest vans; resisting inside detention centres, and supporting their struggles; organising in workplaces … and much more. ARN stands in solidarity with all those resisting raids, whatever ways they choose to fight. While individuals and groups may have their own different views about what tactics work best, ARN will not put out statements condemning any actions against raids.

Do it yourself

The network strongly supports resistance based on “doing it yourself”. That is, we all are most powerful when we join together in our streets, workplaces, and neighbourhoods, build up solidarity, and take action for ourselves. We do not work with political parties.

Decentralised self-organisation

Individuals or groups involved in ARN can act for themselves without seeking permission or consensus from the whole network. We ask only that those using the ARN name (1) support this and the earlier basic statement of principles (below), and (2) don’t claim to represent the whole network. Within that framework, any one is free to set up their own “Anti Raids” initiative: diversity of views, ideas, materials, etc. is encouraged!

There are a few network-wide resources, for example: the central Anti Raids blog; email; and twitter accounts. The main purpose of these is to act as a general contact point and to spread basic information and alerts about raids. They can also act as platforms to publish ideas and opinions coming from individuals and groups within the network. They are not there to promote one “central” or “consensus” Anti Raids position, and may reflect a diversity of positions (again, so long as they hold to the shared basic principles).

No leaders

We are against hierarchy: that is, we don’t want to have leaders, rather we should all take responsibility to organise ourselves as equals. We are against both formal leadership roles and “informal” hierarchical structures. Anyone who dominates others should be challenged.


The network is open to anyone who shares the basic principles. The participation of people whose immigration status puts them at most direct risk from immigration raids is encouraged and supported. But migrants should not have to stand alone in this struggle, we are all implicated in this fight. All who participate in the Network should do so as equals, treating each other with respect, directness and honesty.

Who is behind the Anti Raids Network?

The network was set up in spring 2012 by a number of London-based groups, including the Latin American Workers’ Association (LAWAS), No Borders London, South London Anti-Fascists, Precarious Workers Brigade, The Prisma, Stop Deportation, South London SolFed, People’s Republic of Southwark, as well as independent individuals – with and without papers. The network evolved into a decentralised structure of local Anti Raids groups, as well as various individuals producing and disseminating materials for the network.

The information in the ‘know your rights’ cards and the workshops has been thoroughly researched and produced in conjunction with immigration lawyers. Translations have been proof-read at least twice.

Haringey Anti-Raids

Haringey Anti-Raids was formed in September 2016. A month later, we held our first street stall outside Seven Sisters tube station where we hand out rights information and information about how to challenge raids. Since then, we’ve held stalls most weekends, organised workshops and socials and had thousands of conversations about immigration raids, border imperialism, gentrification and a wide array of other topics.

Confronting the Raids

This section of the zine is lifted directly from the Anti-Raids Network's blog

Resources and Links

Anti-Raids Network

The central Anti-Raids site has a wealth of information including bust-cards (translated into 25 languages), as well as posters, leaflets, and a blog documenting testimony of people challenging immigration raids.

Against Borders for Children (Schools ABC)

Schools ABC organises a campaign to boycott the School Census – the government’s collection of country-of-birth and nationality data of school-children as part of a drive to create a hostile environment for migrant children. Visit their website to see how you can help keep immigration checks out of schools.

Homes Not Borders

Homes Not Borders campaigns against racist and discriminatory Right-to-Rent legislation that requires landlords and letting agents to check the immigration status of prospective tenants – turning them into amateur border guards.

Docs Not Cops

Docs Not Cops is a group campaigning against charging migrants who use the NHS and the sharing of patients’ details with the home office.

North East London Migrant Action (NELMA)

NELMA are a grassroots migrant solidarity group in North East London. They run a social centre for migrants (Akwaaba), accompany migrants without recourse to public funds to Section 17 hearings and campaign on a range of issues – from the deportation of rough sleepers to ending NRPF status.

SOAS Detainee Support

SOAS Detainee Support attempts to break the isolation of immigration detention by visiting and offering emotional and practical support to immigration detainees, as part of a campaign against borders and incarceration.

Haringey Migrant Support Centre (HMSC)

HMSC is a drop-in centre helping vulnerable migrants access free legal advice surrounding immigration, welfare and housing. They support over 2,000 migrants a year.

How to start a community kitchen

Community kitchens are popping up all around the country and they are truly spaces that can make the world a better place, create friendships and make our neighbourhood feel more connected. One myth that needs to be dispelled is that community kitchens are not only for those in dire need and should be and are for everyone regardless of if you can afford a meal or not. Bringing people together from different backgrounds, as we have seen, can heal divisions and dismantle a lot of preconceptions that some people don’t always realise they have – all through the power of a shared meal!

Here are some key ingredients that we have found to be fundamental in running a successful community kitchen. We are by no means experts and we are constantly learning and evolving but these are a few things we have learned so far.


Probably the most important thing is having a space to host your community kitchen. These can come in all shapes and sizes: Community centres, village halls, churches and other places of worship, street corners, parks in summer, restaurants and cafés out of hours. We have been very lucky to be hosted by the South Norwood Baptist Church for the last 3 years but we will be moving to our own venue at the Socco Cheta Community Hub so that we can operate 6 days a week and provide more activities and support for the community.

You need as decent a kitchen as you can find, unless you are cooking in your own homes and serving it on the street. If you are serving the public, you will need to make sure it has been inspected by the council’s food hygiene team and if it is inside then make sure you have enough space for at least 40 guests. You often have to make do with what you can get but creating a clean and safe environment is a must.


There are a number of ways to get food. Fareshare is a charity that redistributes surplus food to charities and not-for-profit organisations. We have had wonderful donations from them ranging from whole lambs, cheese, birthday cakes and an abundance of fruit and veg. City Harvest is also a reliable supplier and can provide high quality vegetables alongside chilled food if you can handle it appropriately at your venue. You can also ask your local supermarkets for food donations but being frank, the quality of food you receive can vary depending on the supermarket you use and their interest in the cause. They also may need reminding as staff shifts can change and may not be aware of your regular collection date.

The food you provide should obviously be tasty but also nourishing. Not every kitchen has the resource to provide a 3 course menu but giving your guests some decent food that feels like it’s made with love can give a bit of dignity and just because something is free doesn’t mean it has to be rubbish. We choose to serve people at their table, clear up after them and treat them as if they were dining in our restaurant for the same reason.


Volunteers are the lifeblood of community kitchens. We are lucky at SNCK to have such committed and passionate volunteers and also to those who are with us briefly but allow us to never miss a service because we are short of people power. Having a sign-up rota (we use is fundamental so you can see how many volunteers you have for the week and to make sure you can fill any upcoming gaps. We have seen patterns in volunteer numbers as the seasons flow. Summer can be quiet with Christmas and the new year good will giving healthy numbers earlier in the year. Take advantage of these moments and be mindful to find ways to boost your numbers as that warm weather beckons.

Of course, volunteers when they start need to be supported to learn the ropes and understand any health and safety issues, but they should also have the freedom to just get stuck in and make suggestions on how the project runs or could be improved.

Volunteers can come from many different channels, through your social media posts and in community facebook groups, your guests that attend, asking neighbours and friends, and also through your local volunteer centre or voluntary support organisation.

Spreading the word and getting the community on board

Give it a good name and an identity but without any of the corporate malarkey. People need to know who you are and where you are. Get your project on the council lists for free meals,, social prescribing databases and local noticeboards. Put posters around the area, post on Facebook groups and use the most effective method of all, word of mouth around your local networks.

As the name says, a community kitchen is nothing without its community. Getting your community onboard is the best support you can receive, they will be your guests that attend, source of all kinds of donations and an all-round cheerleader for your project. Collaborating is also key, always look for opportunities to partner with other local charities and organisations or with local businesses. We have worked with local youth organisations who have volunteered with us to our local community cinema who we are about to do a lunch and film screening with. Partnerships can yield people power for your project, donations and also more support for your guests that attend.

Solidarity not charity

We have nicked this phrase from the epic Streets Kitchen but it couldn’t be more true. The Victorian charity model of feeding the poor and homeless does little to help people move beyond feeling like victims and empower them to build more supported, resilient lives. Guests that walk through those doors should be made to feel valued, empowered and listened to. Providing opportunities for guests to volunteer or take ownership over some part of the project can go a long way in facilitating this.

Community kitchens are great ways of being hubs of informal advice and support for the community. Of course, getting in official advice providers can be useful particularly around finances, housing etc. but creating a space where everyone can share experiences or offer help when someone needs it offers immediate solutions. This has happened in many ways at SNCK, when someone needs something like a new fridge because they’ve finally got somewhere to live or a lift to the hospital then we know among us or reaching out to the wider community, that we can sort it.

Make it fun

This is a vital ingredient. Making a fun and vibrant space that people want to return to and to feel a part of. A quiet environment punctuated by slurps of soup and clattering cutlery may suit some but is not always conducive to encouraging people to chat and relax. Stick on a bit of music (funk and soul always works in our case), encourage a bit of dancing or put on some kind of activity like Bingo. We like to have fun in the kitchen too and volunteers will play with the menu and have a laugh through what is mainly chopping vegetables and washing up!

Community kitchens can be hard work and take a while to establish themselves and get the support that they need but they are worth every minute. When you see those new friendships made, the satisfied faces, the raucous laughter, the dance offs, the hugs and kisses and as one guy once said to us ‘this place is like coming home’, it makes it all worthwhile.

Community kitchens are great ways of being hubs of informal advice and support for the community... creating a space where everyone can share experiences or offer help when someone needs it offers immediate solutions.
South Norwood Community Kitchen

Key ideas for community organising

Some very broad basic ideas for getting started at organising in your local area.

Firstly, remember: If you are going to do community organising, do it in your own area! Don't be a missionary!

Research and preparation
Look around your local area and determine what issues it faces. Talk to your neighbours, what issues do they think are important regarding the area. Determine what kinds of projects you can develop or direct action you can take that meet the area's needs or address the community's issues.

Find out if others are already working on the problems in their area and if they've been effective and what you can learn from them. Determine what kinds of resources you have available and who in your area might be useful allies in accomplishing your goals.

Volunteering or starting your own group
If there is a group doing work in your area and they are effective, it would be a good idea to volunteer with them to gain experience. If there is no group doing work on the issues you are concerned about or existing groups are not effective, start your own group but try to remain on friendly terms with existing groups.

Set a goal. Devise objectives (or strategies) to achieve the goal. Devise actions to achieve the objectives.

Community-building projects
Plan everything you do in your area with an effort to bring people in the community together and get them involved. Make a special effort to get people in the area who are not politically conscious to work on projects and become active.

In short, gear your work towards not just helping the community but towards actually strengthening a sense of community.

Fight prejudice as you organise
Make a special effort to ensure that your organisation and its projects reflect the racial, ethnic and gender diversity in the community and make sexual equality and anti-racism explicit parts of your organisation's politics and policies.

Get attention
Be visible in your area, make every effort to let people nearby know you exist. Seek press attention when you do an action, gain a victory, or establish a project.

Organising in our Communities: Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth

An article by Housing Action Southwark & Lambeth setting out their approach to organising. First published by Base Publication in 2015.

Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth (HASL) have been organising together for two years on housing, benefits and other issues we face relating to poverty. Over time we have explored ways to make our organising more accessible and better addressed to our diverse needs. There are people in our group for whom English is not their first language, some are the sole carers for their children, some have mental or physical disabilities, or struggle with various other difficulties that living in poverty can entail.

HASL is part of the London Coalition Against Poverty. When starting up we found their booklet ‘Building Mutual Support and Organising in our Communities’ to be a vital guide. We recommend that others read this and hope that some of our insights from our early years are also helpful. London Coalition Against Poverty was formed in 2007 in response to the mass mobilisations around the G8. The idea was to set out a way to do politics that is relevant to our daily lived experiences and allows us to take control over our lives.

We’re certainly not the only ones engaging in mutual support and collective action to meet our basic needs. The last two years of the Coalition Government saw several new groups form who shared a community organising approach. These groups include London Campaign Against Police and State Violence, Anti-Raids Network, United Voices of the World, as well as growing numbers of localised housing action groups, including Focus E15 mums and Sweets Way Resists. Links are being built between our groups and we are inspired by the work they’re doing.

Recently, there’s been a renewed focus on ways people can provide practical support, action and solidarity for survival. We hope some of the experiences we share here can contribute to this.

Direct action

Like many of the other successful housing campaigns and action groups that have emerged – Focus E15 mums, Our West Hendon, Guinness Trust Tenants – we know collective direct action is often the only way to get the housing and benefits that we need and deserve. LCAP too, when it started out in 2007 in Hackney, described their approach of direct action casework: ‘acting together, disruptively if necessary, is the only effective way to win improvements’. Hearing tales in south London of Hackney housing office pulling down the shutters when they saw Hackney Housing Group (made up mostly of women of colour) descending upon them yet again was one of the inspirations for setting up HASL.

When approaching the housing office, council, landlords, or any other institution with our reasonable demands doesn’t work, we discuss a variety of direct action tactics that we can use to put pressure on them to get our basic needs met. Our direct action tactics have included buddying at the housing office, town hall occupations, eviction resistances, and communications blockades.

We make sure that our actions are as accessible as possible to our members’ different needs. Our actions are usually local (so not involving travel costs or tiring long distances), finish before school ends or are in half term holidays to include children, and child-friendly with activities for children and people sharing childcare. They don’t require any specific skill, simply being there as part of the group is enough to make a difference.

And they get results! From occupying the town hall to demand someone is housed that day, to stopping an eviction, we can see the direct impact of our collective action.

One of our members described our group to her sister: “I call the group the danbang group – in my language, Hindi street language, that means ‘solid’, you are ‘the solid group’. It also means a daring person, who can do everything. If they are evicting people, they resist it, they make a group and stand outside and talk to them (the bailiffs and council) so they are not evicted onto the streets.”

Another member describes the direct action we took together: “The group saved my family from another embarrassment of eviction from the bed and breakfast provided by social services. They stood by us, very early in the morning they were in the hotel, pressing all buttons they know that will be useful. Even to the extent of escalating it to Southwark town hall to see the big boss.”

Collective support and organising

We meet twice a month to provide support, information, advice and to plan actions. In these meetings we also organise how the group is run, any campaigns we’re working on locally, and our participation in London or national events and actions. As well as attempting to solve (or at least deal with) our problems together, we know that wider change is needed to achieve justice. Otherwise we will continue to face these problems again and again. Organising our mutual support and action together is absolutely key to how we work. The importance of this has been affirmed by our experiences over the last two years when we have sometimes drifted away from this collective approach. This leads to problems like, for example, one member becoming like a caseworker which can put huge stress and pressure on that individual which will result in inferior advice compared to the far more effective and powerful collective support provided through our meetings.

How does it work? Someone will come to a meeting with a problem and together we will work out some possible options for actions we could take, explain the processes of these, refer to previous similar cases and how these went, and share our anger, frustration, outrage, and empathy with the person in question. Doing this as a group allows us to check the courses of action we’ve discussed. We can draw from and build the collective knowledge and experience of the group and the problem itself becomes one that we can deal with as a group, rather than unsustainable, stressful, and alienating one-to-one (unpaid) casework. As well as taking collective ownership of our issues, discussing them in the group allows people to see directly that they are not alone, that others are going through similar problems and that the issue is systemic.


We wanted to set out time we could spend together where, unlike in our meetings, housing didn’t have to be the main topic of conversation. We have celebrated HASL’s birthdays, Christmas, and in the last couple of months we’ve managed to organise (almost) monthly community meals or supper/lunch clubs. Through collecting donations from local businesses, we have cooked up large meals to eat together. We want to make and eat delicious, nutritious food together. As well as struggling for good housing, we know that low incomes mean that we can struggle to afford and find time to make good quality food. We want to politicise and challenge (food) poverty, but we also just want to hang out together. We also want to create a welcoming space for people interested in the group to meet us.

Training sessions

We have regular training sessions so that we can learn and develop as a group. As well as empowering ourselves through learning housing law, we also conduct skill-sharing on things like how to be a buddy at the housing office. The more that people learn, the more the group’s capacity grows as more of us can volunteer for particular tasks. Our recent ‘how to be a buddy’ skill-share was organised to encourage more people to feel confident enough to volunteer for this vital role (having a buddy with you at the housing office can be the difference between being turned away with nowhere to go that evening and getting access to the housing you need). LCAP has supportive lawyers who have run training sessions on housing law, and LCAP members ourselves have designed and run training sessions looking at homelessness law and role-playing how to get what we need at housing offices. These workshops have been vital for people to learn the few rights that we do have, to better understand our personal situations and to build confidence. Our recent eviction process legal workshop was a great example of radical education. With many people currently going through this process, getting an understanding of the legal aspects of it becomes even more important. The complexities of housing law need to be de-mystified.

Going out and talking with people

Whilst we’re not as organised as Focus E15 and Sweets Way Resists who have regular stalls every Saturday afternoon to talk with people about housing and share information about their campaigns, we do hold information stalls regularly (though without a set day or time) outside housing offices and job centres. This way we can talk to people about their situations, hand out ‘know your rights’ leaflets and invite them to come to a meeting.

We’ve also organised workshops to talk about HASL, what we do, and basic housing rights with local community groups including the wonderful Skills Network and English for Action. These workshops help to strengthen our links and gets us talking about how we can support each other.

Don’t give up!

At the very beginning and even later on, you might have a meeting with yourself and two other people who wanted to set up the group. Or maybe you haven’t had a concrete win in a while. It can still be demoralising at times and we can still take it too personally when we’re ignored when handing out leaflets. It’s dispiriting for sure, but if you keep on leafleting and speaking with people about their housing issues, leaving posters and leaflets about, people will come along to meetings and want to be involved. There is a huge housing crisis, things are getting worse. Doing what you’re doing makes sense, even if it’s tiny, you’re still building important knowledge and infrastructure for when more people get involved.

Other problems

Setting out some of the lessons we’ve learnt probably makes it all look and sound easier than it is. Of course, all these lessons and suggestions have been learnt after failures, frustrations, and difficulties which still continue. Organising a local group, even with a decent amount of people involved, still leads to common problems including high stress when urgent situations arise, feeling personal responsibility for people’s situations and the urge to try and solve it, people using the group as a service and not returning to the group once their situation is resolved, and our group being socially cleansed (whilst we have helped secure housing for people, sometimes this has been far away from the group, meaning it is difficult for people, already with very little time and other pressures, to continue to be involved). Sometimes there isn’t an immediate answer or concrete action that we can take to deal with our situation (homelessness law means that councils only have a duty to provide temporary accommodation for people who meet a narrow set of criteria). And sometimes our direct action does not get the results we wanted, sometimes our occupations are ignored.

Discussing what to do as a group about these issues can help resolve them or lessen their impact. LCAP groups from across London meet every three months or so to share our experiences between us, and often hearing how other groups have dealt with similar issues is helpful and comforting.

Housing action groups are being set up and growing across London and beyond, linked together through the Radical Housing Network and the London Coalition Against Poverty. Other grassroots groups are providing mutual support and fighting against the vicious and serious attacks we face. We’re starting to build tighter links between our groups – with our issues overlapping and interweaving as many members of HASL have experienced and as the recent Reclaim Brixton day and targets (town hall, Foxtons, Job Centre, Barnardo’s – for their links in child detention – and the police station) show. Join your local group!

The idea was to set out a way to do politics that is relevant to our daily lived experiences and allows us to take control over our lives.
Housing Action Southwark & Lambeth

Resources for starting an antifascist group

Resources and advice for starting an antifascist group, compiled from guides by the UK-based Anti-Fascist Network and US-based site It's Going Down.

This guide is compiled from "How to set up an anti-fascist group" and "Resources for anti-fascist action" by the Anti-Fascist Network and "Forming an antifa group: a manual" by It's Going Down.

How to set up an anti-fascist group

Get active:

If you want to do something about the presence of the far-right in your local area or do something in your area about fascism generally, the answer is to start getting active. Don’t worry if you don’t have loads of people, just a few activists can make good decisions, support each other and share any work.

Get organising:

Most anti-fascist groups start from few friends. Look around amongst your mates: who is pissed off about the far-right on the streets and in public life? Who wants to do something about it? Who thinks that petitions and demanding politicians to do something are not the only options? Who has participated in any actions? One local AFN group expanded after a call out to block a fascist meeting in a local pub; another developed from an existing group involved in direct action. Trust between anti-fascists is usually built up over actions.

Discuss together what type of group you want to build. The AFN does not impose any political line on local groups or tell them how to campaign in local areas that have very different political cultures, but you may want to consider how ‘public’ or ‘closed’ you want your group to be. Do you simply want to support AFN street actions? Or might you want to get involved in relevant networks, such as migrant solidarity groups, or even host community meetings? There are AFN groups that do just one, some or all of these things. No AFN group works with the police or is affiliated to a political party. All try to work non-hierarchically.

The basics:

A group needs an email address that can be safely publicised so other anti-fascists can make contact. Most AFN groups use a version of

A group should meet regularly. This helps anti-fascists react more effectively to fascist threats; it keep activists working together and enables the planning of future activities.

It is helpful to have a mix of skills in your group. Not everyone has to be a readymade confident street activist. AFN also relies on people who are willing to send emails and print leaflets.

First moves:

It is important to mark your presence in your area. Promoting anti-fascist ideas is very important because it counters the far-right in a public space and shows people with ideas similar to yours that they are not alone.

One of the easiest ways of doing it is by using stickers. If you lack ideas for your own designs or you don’t have graphic skills, the internet is full of ready to use examples. Write to us and we will help you to organise printing.

Other cheap and good ways of spreading the message are flyposting, spray-painting and stencils.

Self-defence and physical fitness:

Fascists are bullies by their very nature and being active against them means you should have certain knowledge of self defence. Many AFN groups undertake self-defence training together or sign up to martial arts classes. At the very least you should try to work on your physical fitness by running or training with a punch bag. Training together improves the group dynamic as well as helps personal confidence in difficult situations.

Sustaining your group: ideas for on-going actions:

Some groups have regular film nights and discussion nights.
All groups have to consider how to fundraise. Participating in any local social centre helps with booking rooms for fundraising events but monies can be raised by collection boxes in bookshops, stalls at friendly political meetings and cultural events or organising fundraising gigs.

Digital activism:

A group can quickly establish a name through an internet presence and social networking but it needs to put effort into maintaining it. If you have people that write good articles, consider setting up a blog for your group. The WordPress platform is the best for that purpose. A Facebook page is another good way of spreading your ideas in the form of news, graphics, events and short comments, but keep in mind that a FB profile has to be tightly controlled due to security reasons and we would recommend keeping all messages and conversations off it.

Twitter is another excellent way of spreading your message. Educate yourself about basics of internet security as it is really important not to divulge too much information online. Keep your internet presence professional.

Resources for anti-fascist action

Following on from our guide to ‘How to set up an anti-fascist group’, here’s some useful resources for those thinking of taking action against the far-right.

Here’s a PDF download of a useful pack of documents about organising grassroots responses to the far-right: No Right Turn (this PDF is also attached to this guide)

Computer security

- For secure email addresses, email lists and good advice on internet security:
- Secure untraceable web browsing: Tor Browser, also available for mobile
- Seeds For Change’s activist computer security pocket sized guide
- Electronic Freedom Foundation’s Surveillance Self-Defence Guide
- Check out a comprehensive guide to using computers for activism at: Tech Tools for Activism
- Sheffield AFN’s basic internet safety for anti-fascists

Legal advice/support for actions and demonstrations

- Green and Black Cross monitor the police and provide legal support to activists on the ground. Lots of resources, including downloadable bustcards, advice for going on protests etc.
- Providing post-arrest support in the police station and in court: Legal Defence and Monitoring Group. Also produce the essential ‘No Comment’ guide and loads of other info about dealing with the police and the criminal justice system. [Note: the LDMG is no longer functioning, but the Activist Court Aid Brigade aims to continue their work.]
- Stop and search advice from ystop.
- Activists Legal Project. This is a bit out of date but still useful.

Running a group

- Seeds For Change advice on running an activist group, meetings etc.

Community organising

- Check out Sostenga’s No Right Turn website which has lots of downloadable resources for educating about the far-right with school groups, youth and community groups.

Planning actions, demonstrations and campaigns

- Seeds for Change
- Earth First! have a “Guide to Public Order situations” on their website. A lot of it doesn’t really apply to anti-fascism, but parts are still useful nonetheless.
- London Anti-Fascists have written a useful list of things to do before a demonstration.
- “The Case for Protest Anonymity” by the Network for Police Monitoring.
- The Occupied Times’ advice on avoiding mass arrest.

Media and publicity

- Seeds for Change guide to dealing with the media.


Very comprehensive (if a few years old now) guide on general security for activists and campaigners from Activist Security, including advice on phones (never send texts!), computers, infiltrators and police attention. Also a useful guide on meeting up in pubs and other public spaces.

Getting the message out

- Lots of anti-fascist groups have sections on their blogs, websites and Facebook pages with resources that can be downloaded and printed off (e.g. Brighton Antifascists)
- There are also many sites like Active Distro, Pozor Distro and SabCat that produce anti-fascist stickers and posters that your group could buy and distribute.
- There are lots of recipes for wheatpaste online, some of the best are on WikiHow. Urban75 have written an “essential guide” on how to flypost once you’ve got the paste ready.
- Once your group is established, it’s always worth getting a Facebook, Twitter and blog going to get the message out online. But remember, keep it secure and professional

An example of inventive flyposting.

How to Raise Money

- Seeds for Change guide on fundraising.
- Some groups make applications to activist funds such as the Edge Fund and XminY.
- If you get a blog up and running, stick a Paypal “donate” button on it, you never know, you might get a few quid!
- Some groups lauch online funding appeals using sites like GoFundMe and IndieGoGo.

Prison (just in case!)

- A survival guide to prison written by a former inmate.
- An LDMG and GBC guide for those potentially facing prison
- An article on ‘Preparing for prison’ written by a long-term prisoner
- ‘Preparing for prison’ from the Activists Legal Project
- The Anarchist Black Cross support anti-fascist prisoners: London ABC / Bristol ABC / Brighton ABC

Forming An Antifa Group: A Manual

Anti-fascist groups, often called “antifa,” are popping up all around the United States, and a number of people have asked us for advice on forming a group. Because antifa work is different from other forms of radical organizing, and because the antifa groups themselves are changing, we have written down some of our suggestions, based on years of experience. However, this article has been written in a very fluid political situation (February 2017), and some of these specifics may or may not be relevant in the coming months and years.

This essay covers a number of points, including: the advantages, disadvantages, and obligations of working under the anti-fascist banner; questions involving anonymity and visibility, both in person and online; self-defense and firearms; working with problematic people and dealing with infiltrators; state repression; and actions to take as anti-fascists.


The first question is: Why are you forming an “antifa” group? The label has advantages and disadvantages, and you should consider this before adopting it. The antifa name gets you a certain level of brand recognition and built-in credibility, but it also includes certain obligations and distinct disadvantages.

If the purpose of your group is to do public organizing where your members are clearly identifiable—organizing anti-Trump rallies or supporting refugees and immigrants—using the antifa label and the traditional antifa symbols will likely lead to blowback that could be avoided by naming your organization differently. “Las Cruces United Against Racism” will not draw the attention that calling yourself “La Cruces Antifa,” and using traditional antifa symbolism, will.


The primary disadvantage is that fascists will try to identify members of your group and cause you physical harm. Staying as anonymous as possible is the easiest way to minimize this. Members’ pictures may appear on white power websites with any personal information they can find, and many anti-fascists have been injured, even killed, doing this work. If you are exposed, you will also be remembered by fascists for several years. (Keep in mind that anti-fascists who are not white men have been targeted more heavily by fascists: women garner greater online harassment, and people of color have been singled out in fights.)


If you form a local antifa group, you will be expected to do a few things:

1) Track white nationalist, Far Right, and fascist activity. Your group will be expected to document fascist groups and organizing in your area. This means gathering information on who is doing what, and knowing the makeup and key players of the various groups that are active. Once information is verified, antifa groups periodically release this information in a publicly available format. It is also crucial to alert any intended targets about specific threats you find while doing research.

2) Oppose public Far Right organizing. If the Klan or the National Socialist Movement hold a public rally, if AltRight speakers come to town, or if the Daily Stormer holds a meet up, you will be expected to organize a counter-demonstration. If they hold postering or sticker campaigns, you should not only take down their materials but also put up your own; public outreach campaigns should likewise be countered.

3) Support other anti-fascists who are targeted by fascists or arrested for antifa-related activities. This could include supporting regional groups, or organizing benefits and fundraisers for prisoners and injured comrades.

4) Build a culture of non-cooperation with law enforcement. If you have any intention of working with the police, FBI, or other agencies; or if you publically condemn anti-fascists who break the law: don’t call yourself an anti-fascist. The cops will be Trump supporters; do not collaborate with them.


Both the authorities and fascists will be interested in your group’s membership, so you should consider the question of public visibility carefully before you start. We strongly recommend against antifa groups being organized using the open, public model of most contemporary activism because of the risk of infiltration. If an emergency situation—such as responding to fascist public event—calls for public meetings and a traditional mass organizing activist model, this should be kept separate from the long-term group structure.

In fact, we recommend that you stay anonymous both while forming and until your first action. Anonymity is your best defense, and you should keep it intact as long as you can. Develop your group, get on the same page, and decide what you want to focus on. Also, note that once groups are formed, it’s very difficult to change the type of person who is in the group. Whether this is about gender, age, race, or counterculture—it will be hard to alter later on.

Use a “closed collective” model: this is a membership-based policy with no open meetings. Don’t allow new people to walk in off the street. Instead, develop a process for researching and vetting people who want to be involved.

One extreme option is to function as a group but not give yourself a name, and not tell fellow activists what you are doing. Once you have a name, fascists will try to figure out “who is in the group.” Not having a public face makes your actions even more anonymous. If people are being targeted, for example after a conflict with fascists, a publicly known group will draw attention first. If there is no public presence, or no formalized organization with a name, this will complicate the process of identification and retaliation.

Consider using a cell model whenever possible, in which one member meets with others when required. For example, you might need a public face to talk to other groups, club owners to convince them to cancel Nazi bands, to meet people to receive information they don’t want to share online, orto table at events. To limit exposure, make sure one person is designated as the semi-public face, even if they never admit they are a group member. This limits how many people can be exposed.


As part of staying anonymous, you should carefully manage your online presence. We recommend only using Twitter; it limits the amount of personal information you expose and makes tracking your connections more difficult. Facebook presents numerous, major risks for the security of your members and supporters.A recent doxxing of “antifa” was the result of information bigots culled from people who had interacted with an antifa facebook page. The targets were not even antifa, just sympathizers, but they were identified via facebook.

Websites imply that your group is more legitimate, and should be used especially if you want to doxx local fascists or put up group statements. Again, if you don’t have a group name, you may choose not to have any online presence.

Individual members, when possible, should get off social media, especially facebook, altogether. Where they don’t, they should maintain strictly separate personal and political accounts.


Antifa groups engage in self-defense work. While most antifa work does not involve direct confrontation, and the amount of confrontation varies from group to group, sometimes it is necessary. Your group members and the supporters around you should be prepared.

We recommend regular martial arts training for anti-fascists, as well as for the larger radical community. It’s a good place to meet people who are serious about this.

Find out what the laws are in your city and state about a variety of self-defense weapons and make sure to practice with, and carry, everything that is legal— whether that is pepper spray, retractable clubs, or other devices.In some cases, what is legal to carry for self-defense is considered assault with a weapon if used in an offensive capacity. Laws vary community by community and ideally a lawyer should be consulted regarding this.


A word about guns. Ask yourself: Can another weapon suffice instead of a gun? If you do choose to own guns, engage in regular practice. A gun can give you a false sense of security and if you’re not in practice, you’re more likely to be injured than if you don’t have one. Keep in mind that gun shops and range owners themselves are often connected to right-wing political groups.

If you choose to engage in firearms training, make sure everyone understands basic gun safety—as well as local laws—when it comes to owning, transporting, and potentially using firearms.

Above all, don’t front with images of guns unless you own and are ready to use them. Which is better: to pretend that you have guns and then have one pulled on you when you are unarmed, or for fascists to try to roll on you without realizing you are armed?

However, if right-wingers have been threatening people in your area with guns, or have already shot people, we recommend you arming yourselves immediately and getting concealed carry permits, where possible. For more information, see “Know Your (Gun) Rights! A Primer for Radicals.


A diversity of people are joining the anti-fascist movement today, which both strengthens it and broadens its base. However, people may float into your circles who put your core goals and membership at risk, and so here are some warnings:

1) Some people use the antifa name as a way to promote their specific political views, especially members of some ideologically driven left-wing groups. If someone is more interested in recruiting people to their own group than doing anti-fascist work, get rid of them.Same with someone who seem to be interested in being publicly identified as antifa so they can gain public acclaim. Real antifa strive to remain anonymous—that’s what the masks are for!

2) Insist on mutual respect. Some people will be more interested in identity politics than others, and some people will be new to all of these discussions. This diversity is a healthy development, but establish a minimum level of respect that must be observed for all group members. Disputes over patriarchal behavior tore antifa groups apart in the 1990s. Work to create a culture of mutual respect and support that can also help bring in new people.

3) Avoid those who insist you must “follow their leadership” because of their identity, or who lay out a preset plan based on experiences from a decade or more ago. The Far Right threatens a broad range of identities. Also, this is a new situation, and nobody knows what the correct course of action is.

4) Be wary of people who just want to fight. Physically confronting and defending against fascists is a necessary part of anti-fascist work, but is not the only or even necessarily the most important part. Macho posturing and an overemphasis on picking fights and physical combat can be reckless, un-strategic, and unnecessarily dangerous for your group.

5) Drop people who have loose lips and openly talk about illegal actions around people they don’t know, or who pressure newer and younger people to engage in illegal activities. Antifa work is intense and potentially dangerous: We face threats from both the state and the fascists. If someone in your group likes to brag and talk about various illegal actions they have done or plan to do, especially when they are in public settings (including meetings or people who aren’t in the core group), quickly remove them.

Be particularly vigilant against anyone who attempts to pressure young or new members to carry out actions that might put them in unnecessary danger. This is a classic provocateur move with the potential to bring a group down.

Make good group dynamics and security culture part of your chapter’s inner dynamics and when people make mistakes, remind them in a good way that they have done so. For those that can’t get with the program, show them the door.


Over the years, we have dealt with a variety of infiltrators. Sometimes they are random contacts. Sometimes they are fence sitters in the punk rock and skinhead scenes who are known to people in both fascist and anti-fascist circles. On one occasion, a black man tried to get involved with antifa groups, but ended up being affiliated with a neo-Nazi party and was feeding them information. AltRight supporters in particular can be from the same social demographic as many left-wing activists, and have infiltrated several meetings and demonstrations, including January 2017 planning meetings in DC before the protests at the inauguration. You will have to screen out and deal with them.

If people contact you and ask to meet, ask yourself: Do you need to meet with them? Vet them first. Consider asking them to show ID or reveal other personal information before any in-person meetings.


The state sees anti-fascists as an enemy. Activists will be monitored and the state will not hesitate to jail people. Until now, U.S. antifa have been spared the harsh repression that the animal rights and radical environmental direct action groups received, which included terrorism charges, long sentences, and harsh prison conditions. However, because Trump is allied with the AltRight, this has the possibility of changing soon, and antifa may face increased targeting on a federal level.

In the past, police tended to show up in large groups at public demonstrations to prevent clashes between antifa and racists. This may no longer be the case (as happened in Anaheim in February 2016), or police may start openly taking the sides of racists in public conflicts. This happened in Seattle in January 2017 when an AltRight supporter shot an activist at a demonstration; police refused to arrest the shooter.

Prepare legal support ahead of time; make sure you know a lawyer who is willing to represent anyone who is arrested.A trial lawyer, if necessary, can be found later. Get used to doing political prisoner support.Many anti-fascists are in prison around the world, and they would like our support now.Remember: It may be your turn later. Contribute to the International Anti-Fascist Defense Fund, and apply to it if members need financial help with legal, medical, or other expenses.


The anti-fascist movement has come from multiple theoretical currents; it is based on an agreement on tactics, not ideological uniformity. In the U.S., most activists are anarchist, although a few are Maoist or anti-state Marxists. (In other countries, the movement is predominately Marxist.) There is a general agreement to live and let live regarding political disagreements that would be divisive in other activist circles.

Other than tracking and countering fascists and white supremacists, it’s your choice what your group wants to focus on. Some antifa groups pay a varying level of attention to other radical right-wing forces, such as the anti-immigrant movement, the Patriot and militia movement, Islamophobes, Men’s Rights Activists, homophobic organizers, etc. Regarding what radical movements you actively support, it’s also your choice who you want to make your ties to. Today, this is commonly to Black Lives Matter and other activism against police oppression of the Black community, immigrant and refugee movements, work with prisoners, and Rojava solidarity work.

Working with other groups can be challenging. It is not uncommon for liberal activists to immediately smear anti-fascists as violent thugs who delegitimize their movement, and others will be willing to inform the authorities if they suspect illegal actions are being taken. However, a few will be sympathetic—and we have run into a number of people who privately have told us they were antifa in the past and understand the need for this approach.

However, in general we have found that, unless there is an existing relationship with a more mainstream organization, they will almost always reject collaboration if you approach them as an antifa group. It’s best to build relationships prior to any request for working together, or if this can’t be done, to approach them under a different name (“Las Cruces United Against Racism”). In general relationships with Black Lives Matter and immigrants rights groups have been positive. However, be sure that any conflicts with fascists are done in a way that does not draw police repression onto these activists: keep a separation in time and space.

On the national level, your group can affiliate with the Torch Network if you are in agreement with their points of unity:


Now that you have a group, what do you do?

1) Establish an online presence

If you are a public group, establish an online presence. Again, we recommend limiting this to a webpage and/or twitter. If you make a facebook group for an event, make sure you set the invite list to private: many people have been doxxed based on information from invites. For some more ideas on basic online security, see:

2) Start monitoring

Find out about your local Far Right groups and collect information about them, including organizations, names, pictures, addresses, and work places. These can include AltRight activists, KKK, Nazi skinheads, neo-Nazi parties, suit-and-tie white nationalists, anti-Semites, Islamophobes, anti-immigration activists, Patriot and militia groups, and others. The SPLC’s Hate Map lists groups by state, although it will be incomplete. You can also look at established national groups such as Identity Evropa and the Traditionalist Worker Party and see if they have local chapters in your area. Also, reading reports by other anti-fascist groups may give insight into who is recruiting in your area.

3) Stickering and wheatpasting

If racist groups are stickering or flyering in neighborhoods, organize patrols to tear them down. Use a scraping tool, as there have been occasional instances of razors being placed behind the stickers. Create anti-fascist stickering, flyering, wheatpasting, and graffiti campaigns of your own.

4) Doxxing

After doing your research, present information about racist organizing in your community. The information you release should present enough information to convince an average reader that the target is clearly a racist. Information should include, if possible: a picture, home address, phone number, social media profiles, and employment information. Be sure to include organizational affiliations and screenshots showing concrete evidence of racist and fascist views. Follow up the doxx with a pressure campaign: call their work and try to get them fired, and inform their neighbors through flyering or door-to-door campaigns.

When you present your intel, you’ll have showed your hand, however, and generally it’s difficult to collect more after that. Also be aware that you will enrage your target by naming them: you might have been ignored as a public group for a year doing antifa stuff, but once you refer to a local racist by name, they will fixate on you.

Make sure your intel is correct. You will lose credibility and create unnecessary enemies if you list a home address or work place that the fascist is no longer associated with. The majority of research can be done online, but some things can only be verified in the real world.

5) Event shutdowns

Pressure venues to cancel racist or fascist events. Make sure you have your dossier on the subject prepared beforehand to present, as the first question will always be “How do you know they are a racist?” Approach venues with a friendly phone call, as often they are not informed about the politics of events at their space. However, if they don’t cancel immediately, they will almost always need to be pressured. Collect phone numbers, emails, and social media contacts and call for a shutdown. (We have found that it is helpful to make easily sharable graphics and short videos.) Threaten a boycott of the venue if they event goes on, and follow through on this. In Montreal, one racist concert was cancelled after antifa physically blocked the entrance.

6) Self-defense trainings

Set up an antifa gym or regular self-defense trainings. Some groups set up two parallel ones: one mixed gender, and one women/trans/gender non-conforming folks. In addition to providing skills, trainings are good ways to increase confidence and meet new people. (An antifa gym network exists in Europe.)

7) Events: benefits and tabling

If your group has a public presence, table at events with anti-fascist literature, stickers, buttons, patches, etc. This is particularly important in cultural scenes where fascists are recruiting, to help organize resistance to them, as well as to reach out to new participants and pressure fence sitters.

If you have a friendly political situation, throw benefits to raise funds. Concerts are a favorite, but be creative! The anti-fascist movement is going to need a lot of money, and it’s better to collect it before rather than after it’s needed. Also get in the habit of having letter writing nights and doing other support work for anti-fascist and related political prisoners. Consider donating to the International Anti-Fascist Defense Fund, which collects funds for prisoners around the world.

8) Demonstrations

If racists are having public rallies, organize mass demonstrations against them with allied groups who are willing to work with you. You can also join other demonstrations, such as Black Lives Matter or for immigrants and refugees, with antifa flags and banners—though he sure to be respectful of the organizers and not get in front of their message. Take photos with antifa banners, blur the faces, and put them on social media.

In general, antifa work should be a certain set of practices within the broader radical movement against white supremacy in particular, but hierarchy and oppression in general. Antifascism is not a stand-alone ideology; it is a piece of a whole, just as prisoner support is. Fascists, after all, don’t just threaten people of color—they also are against Muslims, Jews, LGBTQ people, immigrants and refugees, feminists, leftists, etc. Make sure that antifascism is a part of the other movements in our society towards liberation.


Especially if you are new to the kinds of activism where police and others may be targeting you, be sure to familiarize yourself and your comrades with security culture protocols, and to implement online security measures, from the start. It’s common for groups to be more open early on and closed in later; try to avoid this dynamic by starting out with your cards close to your chest, and keep playing them that way throughout the game.

It is best that individual members leave social media. This is a double-edged sword, but it will provide more protection if antifa avoid facebook and similar platforms.

Also keep in mind that some security measures are primarily aimed at keeping you anonymous from the fascists, but might not do much to shield you from the deeper resources of the state. The FBI has much greater surveillance resources than the local police, who in turn have more resources than your local white power crew.

Some applications that can help you with security include Signal (text and calls), KeePassX (password manager), TOR (internet browser), (“real time collaboration of text documents”), (web conferences), PGP (email & document encryption), Mailvelope (encryption for webmail),OwnCloud (alternative to dropbox and googledocs),and PowerBase (database solution). In addition, spend some time removing yourself from search directories.

An extended discussion of security culture and digital security is beyond the scope of this primer, but starting points have been included in the reading list below.



Security Culture: A Handbook for Activists

What is Security Culture?

Security Culture for Activists


How to Trump-Proof Your Electronic Communications

Digital Security Tips for Protesters

Security in a Box: Digital security tools and tactics

YOUR PHONE IS A COP: An OpSec/InfoSec Primer for the Dystopian Present

YOUR PHONE IS A COP 2: Getting Arrested with Your Phone

Time to Beef up Defense Against Far-Right Doxxing

Speak Up & Stay Safe(r): A Guide to Protecting Yourself From Online Harassment

How to Remove Yourself From People Search Directories


It’s Going Down

Anti-Fascist News

Three Way Fight

Idavox / One People’s Project


International Anti-Fascist Defence Fund

Global Antifa Prisoner List


TORCH Antifascist Network

Affinity Groups: Essential Building Block of Anarchist Organization

#TrumpTheRegime: Resources and Ongoing Resistance to Trump and the Far-Right

Bloc Party: How to Join the Resistance Interview & Zine

Recipes for Disaster: An Anarchist Cookbook

How to set up an anti-fascist group

Resources for anti-fascist action

no-right-turn-small.pdf2 MB
howtoantifa-revised.pdf3.38 MB
In general, antifa work should be a certain set of practices within the broader radical movement against white supremacy in particular, but hierarchy and oppression in general. Antifascism is not a stand-alone ideology; it is a piece of a whole, just as prisoner support is.
It's Going Down

Things you can do to build resistance to raids and the hostile environment

(For tips on what to do if you see an immigration raid, see here)

We are a loose network and believe that resistance best comes from the grassroots. We also think that the most effective resistance to immigration raids can take place locally, as we usually don’t know in advance where raids will take place. We’re not looking to “bring people in” to us, to become another mass organisation. Instead we’d like to see lots of autonomous groups forming and feeling empowered and confident to take action themselves. We aim to provide materials, advice and information to support this.

There are currently an average 12 of immigration raids per day across London, leading to unknown number of individuals being snatched from their homes or places of work and bundled off to detention centres where they await deportation. Raids, however, can be made unworkable through combined efforts and different tactics. Here we list possible initiatives and ideas based around different interests or skillsets which we would love to see people taking on and developing.

Many of these things are already happening – we just need a lot more of them! Others are long-running ideas that have yet to come to fruition. Feel free to get in touch if you would like any advice or information to support your initiative.


We feel it’s essential to develop communications tools to support resistance among people who live or work in areas affected by raids. To this end, you could:

– Develop a small-scale secure communications infrastructure to share alerts (neighbourhood, local businesses, network of friends, a market, a targeted workplace). This could be an instant messaging group, or text alert system, or something else altogether.

– If you’re technically-savvy, why not look into developing an app for people to share raids alerts securely? Some have already been trialed in various countries – we can send you links to these if you get in touch.


If you think that your workplace is at any risk of being targeted by Immigration Enforcement – either looking for staff, service users, clients, or customers – it can be a critical area within which to organise. Discuss the issue with colleagues you trust and come up with a plan.

Depending very much on the nature of the workplace, this could be:

– Agreeing a response plan in the event of a raid, for example, some colleagues helping others leave the premises while others stall at the door.

– Make sure your colleagues know that they can refuse entry to immigration officers, as officers rely heavily on consent alone to raid a property. If they’re in possession of a warrant or an Assistant Director’s letter, they can force entry. Be aware of the risk of “arrests by appointment", particularly if you and your colleagues have a bad relationship with your employer, or if you’re in the middle of an industrial dispute.

– You may want to organise your own messaging group, particularly if you work in a large-scale or mobile work place, or if the work is spread across different sites (such as a courier company).

– You might want to present your bosses with a statement (signed by as many workers as possible), setting out your position on non-collaboration. This might be that you collectively refuse to carry out a specific task being asked of you (such as to check or report the migration status of a person), or that you simply won’t participate in any functions of immigration control.

– If you work in administration and data entry for sectors being pushed into collaborating with the Home Office, you could ‘forget’ to enter certain data, such as addresses, or in the case of GP surgeries, use the practice address instead. See the Doctors of the World Toolkit for more on this.

– If you work in the NHS, check out Doctors of the World’s ‘Safe Surgeries Toolkit’ for ideas on what you can do to prevent information being handed over to Immigration Enforcement, and get involved in the Docs Not Cops campaign.

– If you’re a student, parent, teacher or lecturer, have a look at the Schools Against Borders for Children campaign against the use of the Schools Census for immigration purposes, and check out Unis Resist Border Controls.


– We encourage you to get in contact with us via Twitter when you see a raid happening (@antiraids, copy in @LCAPSV), so that we can spread the word. If you don’t have Twitter, consider calling someone who does and ask them to message us. Always include the exact time and location that you spotted the raid.

– If you work for or were recently employed by the Home Office, or you work(ed) for another agency that is required to collaborate with Immigration Enforcement, we would love to hear from you. All communications will be kept confidential, and you can communicate with us securely using our PGP key if you prefer.

– If you know anyone or any businesses directly at risk of being raided, send them our know your rights information.

– If you know anyone working in a sector being brought into the fold of immigration control (NHS, schools, universities, homelessness charities), send them information relevant to those areas (links above). Similarly, if you are active in resisting the extension of controls into these areas and have information on developments that we could share, please get in touch.

– If you feel confident in giving workshops to groups at risk of raids, involving role plays and basic ‘know your rights information’, you can use the following slideshow as a guide (notes included):


Images are essential! Clear images help communication across barriers of languages and literacy. We have found that while some stall visitors may not want to pick up a wordy leaflet, they’ll happily take an informative poster they can stick on their toilet door. We will share most posters and graphics submitted to us on the site (if in doubt please get in touch first).

– Create & share images, infographics, posters, or stickers against snitching and collaboration with immigration control, encouraging migrant solidarity, and resistance to immigration raids.

– Write up your experience of challenging immigration enforcement so that we can add it to our ‘Confronting the Raids’ series to inspire others.

– Get out into the streets: print out and put up posters (flyposting guide here), stickers, graffiti, stencils etc. Note that some of these things could constitute a minor offence, so be careful. See here for some posters you can download and print.


If you have skills in a language spoken by those affected by raids (see the languages our materials already translated on our side for a guide), then you might be particularly well placed to do street-based outreach, workshops and translations. We welcome help in translating and proof-reading the ‘know your rights’ cards into other languages, and are still looking for translators for the Igbo and Tigrinya versions. We are also looking for proof readers for the Yoruba version. Get in touch if you are interested in translating information or posters, as some translations might be more pressing than others.


If you have access to cheap printing so that we can print leaflets, pamphlets, or A3 colour posters, please let us know.


We’re always looking for input from lawyers who are familiar with the powers of immigration officers and the intersections between immigration and public law. Please get in touch if you’d like to help us develop more materials. Note that we consult with multiple legal heads before we publish anything.


Whether it’s running a regular stall, leafleting in the street or going round from shop to shop, you can use any of our materials to do so, or develop your own. Get in touch if you would like any of our ‘know your rights’ cards (shown in the pic above) or leaflets.

Over the past couple of years, groups have held weekly stalls in Deptford, Peckham, Haringey and Whitechapel. If you are interested in starting a local stall your own stall or group, we recommend that you check out our principles, as we promote and support groups that agree with these principles. So, for example, we do not promote party-political or other hierarchical groups. If you are still interested after having read this, then the best thing to do is probably to contact your local anti raids group and visit their stalls.

It’s also worth checking out this guide to starting your own Anti Raids group.


Fight back against raids when you see them happening. See here for ideas on how.


We don’t just have to wait for ‘racist vans’ to enter our neighbourhoods, we can also follow them when we see them on the move. Have a look at where your nearest enforcement base is and consider organising protests there.

We encourage you to get in touch before you start working on some of the above projects, as we have been actively working on many of the areas outlined above and are aware of the practicalities involved.

There are currently an average 12 of immigration raids per day across London, leading to... individuals being snatched from their homes or places of work and bundled off to detention centres... Raids, however, can be made unworkable through combined efforts and different tactics.
Anti-Raids Network

Tools for Building Tenant Power: Tactics Vol #1

Chicago-based Autonomous Tenants Union (ATU) presents a booklet on tactics that can be utilized in a variety of struggles.

By necessity, ATU’s work often centers around talking to tenants about their “rights” as given to them by the legal system. In our organizing, these rights are referred to as the shield. A shield can protect you, but it cannot win a fight for you. Your rights often can only protect you if you have access to a lawyer, and can fail you on a judge’s whim. You need something more — you need the sword.

We offer this zine in hopes that the tools within will help folks to go on the offensive and fight back against their landlords. Because even when the law and the courts ultimately work to serve the landlord class, the power of tenants united will prevail.


call-in campaign…..…..4
delegation…………….. 6
press conference….……10
banner drop…………..13

ATU Tactics Zine v1 Print English.pdf1.61 MB
ATU Tactics Zine v1 Online English.pdf1.61 MB

Demonstrations and law enforcement

Defending living and working conditions has brought many people into conflict with the state itself, and the anti-capitalist demonstrations of the past ten years have turned this into a ritual. We offer guides to taking direct action effectively and safely, avoiding police harassment, and dealing with arrest and incarceration.

Demonstrations guide.pdf697.82 KB

Demonstrations guide

Information on and guides to organising and participating in demonstrations, marches, pickets and other similar activities safely and effectively.

Being Trans and Protesting

This guide outlines key rights and advice for trans people attending protests. We hope that this guide will support you in knowing your rights, so you can make informed decisions about how and when you take action. This guide was compiled by Green and Black Cross.

You have the right to have your gender recognised. This guide outlines other key rights and advice for trans people attending protests.

Transphobia is rife in society. This can mean that some trans people do not wish to put themselves at risk of having to interact with the state – through having to interact with the police – by going on demonstrations. Fear can therefore keep people off the streets: know your rights so you can understand the risks.

We hope that this guide will support you in knowing your rights, so you can make informed decisions about how and when you take action.

This guide covers:

1 Your rights under the Equality Act
2 Our key messages
3 Being stop & searched
4 Being arrested

We know that gender and how people are gendered can be complex and contradictory. The following will not be completely comprehensive.

Please email us at with any comments, questions or suggestions.

Being-Trans-and-Protesting-Protest-Key-Information.pdf2.07 MB

1. Your Rights Under the Equality Act

The actions of the police during stop and search and arrest procedures are governed by the Police and Criminal Evidence (PACE) codes. These are informed by the Equality Act 2010.

Gender reassignment is defined in the Equality Act as a “personal, social and sometimes medical process”. Therefore, even if the state does not officially recognise your gender, and you do not have it on your documents, your gender should be protected when being stopped and searched or arrested, because gender reassignment – defined as a “personal, social and sometimes medical process” – is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act.

UK law is currently unclear about non-binary people. This does not mean that if you are non-binary you need not be assertive about your gender if you wish.

No police officer has the right to ask you whether you have a Gender Recognition Certificate.

The law is (unsurprisingly) still transphobic – Annex L of the PACE codes, which explicitly addresses gender reassignment, says that police officers should ask you your gender and respect it, unless your “predominant lifestyle” is different from what officers decide. This does not mean you cannot insist on having your gender recognised.

2. Key Messages - Being Trans and Protesting

If you’re heading out on a protest, take a read of our key messages and download a copy of our latest bustcard.

We suggest that you take a note of our arrestee support number and of a criminal solicitor with protest experience. Write them down on something the police will struggle to take from you, such as an arm or a leg.

Arrestee Support: 07946 541 511

Solicitor with protest experience

Key Messages

- No Comment
- No Personal Details
- Under What Power?
- No Duty Solicitor
- No Caution?

1. No Comment

You are not obliged to speak to the police on demonstrations.

They want to gather information about you, your friends and other people on the demonstration. You can and should say “No Comment” to them. If arrested, you do not need to answer police questions, so don’t. This is for your own protection and for the protection of others. The police will try to pressure and deceive you into incriminating yourself. Instead of trying to decide when it seems ‘safe’ to answer, just say “No comment” to all questions – during ‘informal chats’, in the police van, and especially in interview.

However, if you have been arrested and have been taken to the police station you may wish to give your name, address and date of birth at the custody desk to speed up your release.

Under new changes, if you are arrested you are now also obliged to tell the police your nationality – but only if they have good reason to suspect you are not a British National.

You may also wish to speak to the cops if you are trans and being forced to interact with them (e.g. if you are being stopped and searched or arrested) and they are misgendering you. You have the right to insist that your gender be recognised.

UK law is currently unclear about non-binary people. However, government policy documents refer to nonbinary people, and therefore by extension you can insist that your gender be respected.

If possible, just don’t engage with the police. No comment.

2. No Personal Details

You are not obliged to give your details under any stop and search power. This includes your name, your address, and your gender.

If you are being stopped and searched, ‘non-intimate’ searches (i.e. ‘pat-downs’ – being physically touched by an officer outside of your clothes) can be done by officers of any gender, but you have the right to ask to be searched by an officer of the same gender as you, and if it is ‘reasonably practicable’ this should be done. Therefore if you are being misgendered you can insist on being treated as your gender.

If you are non-binary, because the police only have to provide someone of the same gender as you ‘where reasonably practicable’, it is very unlikely you will be physically searched by a non-binary officer. This doesn’t mean you needn’t request this if you wish.

3. Under What Power

If the police are demanding that you do certain things, ask “Am I legally obliged to do so?” then if they say yes, “Under What Power?” The police must have a legal basis for their actions. You can ask them “under what power” are they doing things.

4. No Duty Solicitor

The “duty solicitor” is the solicitor who is present at the police station.

They may come from any firm of solicitors, which means they almost certainly know nothing about protest.

Duty solicitors often give bad advice to protesters; we recommend you always use a good solicitor who knows about protest.

Irvine Thanvi Natas (ITN): 020 8522 7707
Hodge Jones Allen (HJA): 0800 437 0322
Bindmans: 020 7833 4433
Kellys (outside London): 01273 674 898

5. No Caution

Offering you a caution is a way the police may ask you to admit guilt for an offence without having to charge you.

It is an easy win for the police, as they don’t have to provide any evidence or convince a court of your guilt.

At the very least, you should never accept a caution without taking advice from a good solicitor.

3. Being Stop & Searched

You do not have to give any personal details during a stop and search. Police stop and search people to gather intelligence and to intimidate.

This section will focus on specific issues that transgender folk might face if the police stop and search them. It will cover:

1. Documentation
2. Being Touched By a Police Officer During a Search
3. FAQs About Stop and Search

For a more general, and in-depth, guide please consult our Stop and Search guide.

1. Documentation

If they succeed in accessing your documentation by going through your bag or wallet and finding ID, bank cards or letters, cops might argue that you ‘might have stolen’ your own property and so they ‘need your details’ to verify that you haven’t.

This is nonsense, but does sometimes happen to people, regardless of their gender. If you know you are going on a demonstration, think about what documentation you need to bring with you: if you don’t need it, leave it at home: it could limit this from happening. If your documentation has different names on, or if the name or title on documentation is associated with a gender different from how you present, the police might argue that you have stolen your own stuff.

All of the documentation is yours. You can and should insist on this. However, it is possible that the police could arrest you on suspicion of theft. This is very rare, and the case wouldn’t go anywhere in court, but it is possible.

This situation could make you feel that you have to out yourself as trans in order to explain the situation. That is your decision, and some people would choose to do this. However, it is not illegal to have more than one name, and you do not have to give them your personal details.

You may choose to give your name under threat of arrest for theft, however, in order to assert that that is your property, and that is your decision.

Take the names and numbers of the officers who have treated you in this way, and get in touch with GBC if you wish to make a complaint against them.

2. Being touched by a police officer during a search

If you are being stop and searched, ‘non-intimate’ searches can be done by officers of any gender, but you have the right to ask to be searched by an officer of the same gender as you.

If it is ‘reasonably practicable’, this should be done.Searches involve being touched by an officer on your legs, arms, back and chest outside of your clothes. They can make you remove outer clothing such as a coat or hat.

If you are being misgendered you can insist on being treated as your gender so as to be searched by an officer of the same gender.Because the police only have to provide someone of the same gender as you ‘where practicable’ it is unlikely you would be searched by a non-binary officer.

If the police want to do a more intimate search where they make you remove more than outer clothing, they have to take you to a private place, which could be a police van, and you must be searched by someone of the same gender. Therefore you can insist that they recognise your gender so that you are searched by an officer of the appropriate gender.

A search must be proportionate to the reason for the search. If police officers tell you they have to search you more intimately, ask them why that is necessary. If they are searching for items that could be used to cause criminal damage, or weapons, it is very unlikely that you would need to remove more clothing because a pat down search would lead to the discovery of such an item.

However, there may be rare circumstances where an intimate search would be considered reasonable by the police (e.g. they could argue they are looking for razor blades). The police can ask you to remove clothing to recover such an item if it is not voluntarily handed over.

A search cannot lawfully be done to try to determine what a police officer considers to be your “real” gender. This is definitely not a lawful basis for a search and would obviously be discriminatory.

3. FAQs About Stop and Searches

1. What if, for whatever reason, a police officer challenges my gender after having searched me?
Your gender is your gender. You can insist on being treated as your gender and do not have to out yourself as trans to anyone. The Equality Act 2010 defines gender reassignment as a protected characteristic.

2. Can I be stop and searched if I am read as a man coming out of the women’s toilets?
No. It is not up to you to explain yourself. It is up to them to justify how they are treating you and the law under which they are acting. Always ask: “Under What Power?: “Am I being detained? If so, under what power?” Under PACE there are limited things you can search for, e.g. items that could be used to cause criminal damage. Being read as a man coming out of a women’s toilet is not one of those things.

3. Am I putting myself in more danger by outing myself to a police officer?
Legally, this should not be the case because of the Equality Act 2010. If you choose to out yourself as trans, you should absolutely tell the officers that you expect to be treated with respect and in accordance with the Equality Act, under which gender reassignment is a protected characteristic. However, transphobia is rife, and therefore how you are treated at the time will depend on the individual cop.

If you have a negative experience during a Stop and Search, whether that be due to transphobia or any other reason, get in touch with GBC. We can put you in touch with a solicitor who can help you make a complaint against the officers if you wish.

The Y-Stop App can be used to record a Stop and Search. The app is available here.

4. Being Arrested

This section covers specific issues that transgender people may face if they are arrested. For general advice, please see our guide on being arrested here.

This section will cover:

1. When is gender a particular issue?
2. Giving your name
3. Access to medication, hormones, birth control, sanitary towels
4. Additional questions about arrest

1. When is gender a particular issue?

There are specific times when you are arrested when gender is a particular issue:

• When your details – whether you choose to give them or not – are being recorded
• If you are grouped with other people of what the police perceive to be your gender
• If you are put in a cell with other people of what the police perceive to be your gender you should be put in a cell with someone of the same gender as you.

Therefore you can insist on being accurately gendered. Good times to do this are at the point of arrest being checked into the police station on arrival.

It is totally your decision as to whether you wish to do this. Some people would rather endure being misgendered during their time in custody. Do what makes you feel safest.

If you are going on an action and you think you could be arrested, let your friends or affinity group know how you want to be treated in the police station if you are arrested. If you have people providing back office legal support to your action, you can let them know too so they can check in with your solicitor to make sure you are being treated appropriately.

2. Giving your name

Two important things to remember if and when you give your name in the station are:

• You can change your name in English and Welsh law at any point for any reason as long as it is not to engage in fraud
• You don’t have to have any documentation of the name that you give, it is still your name.

The police are likely to check your name against the electoral register, they might send a cop round to the address you’ve given and ask if you live there.

If you give a fake name with the intention to deceive, that is illegal. If it is your name, that is not a problem, even if you have more than one name. This means you do not have to undergo misgendering in the station just because your official documents do not reflect your actual name and gender.

3. Access to medication, hormones, birth control, sanitary towels

You may need to access hormones, other medication, birth control, sanitary towels or other hygiene products while in custody. Speak to your solicitor: they can advocate for you. Having hormones with you may cause them to question your gender. You can speak to your solicitor about this as well.

4. Additional questions about arrest

If the police are continuing to misgender you, is there a process to challenge that?
If you want to, you can tell your solicitor who can also insist on your being treated appropriately.

Given that gender dysphoria is technically a mental health condition, is there any way the police can use this against you while you are in custody?
No. Gender reassignment is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. The police have no right to treat you as mentally ill because you are trans. The police can decide that you need a mental health assessment for various reasons, and this must be done by a medical healthcare professional. It cannot be done by a police officer. You can ask to have an Appropriate Adult present if you wish.

What if I am under 18?
You have the right to have a parent, guardian or Appropriate Adult informed of your arrest and present for any interview. They may offer you a Social Worker but we recommend against this.

Guide to public order situations

A brief survival guide for when a demonstration turns into a riot or public order situation, and preventing the police from gaining the upper hand once a situation has occurred.

This article is focussed on the UK, but some points are universal.

Bear in mind that the police are probably much better equipped and trained for close combat than you or I. They have been psyching themselves up for hours, are likely to have plenty of reserves standing by and usually feel confident with the law behind them. Beating the police is about outwitting them, not necessarily hitting them over the head.

The aims and methods of the state
British Law has traditionally been concerned with keeping the peace and not necessarily preventing or solving crime.

The roots of such public order policing can be traced back to the common law offences introduced to control the havoc caused by mercenaries returning from the Hundred Years War. These laws evolved into the 1967 Riot Act, which established in law the concept of arresting anyone present at a riot, regardless of whether they are guilty of violent acts. The Riot Act no longer exists, replaced by the Public Order Act in 1986. The reality of the situation is that the police act as if it did.

The Public Order Manual of Tactical Operations and Related Matters provides the police with clear instructions for dealing with situations where public order is threatened. This manual has never been made public, has no legal standing and was never discussed by Parliament. It basically gives the police guidance in the use of pre-emptive acts of violence, to achieve the following:

1. To break the crowd up into manageable portions, keep them moving then eventually disperse them.
2. To provoke violence as a way of justifying their actions and flushing out any ringleaders.
3. To contain the crowd and stop the trouble spreading.
4. To intimidate and break the spirit of the crowd.
5. To gather evidence for later.

The manual contains details of tactics which include the use of snatch squads, baton charges and the use of horses to disperse and intimidate large crowds. Make no mistake - the cops will be prepared to do whatever it takes to ensure that our actions and protests are ineffective.

So how do we make sure our actions are effective?

• Don’t be tempted to stand around and fight – get to where you can cause disruption without the police around.
• Keep moving, as a group and individually. Fill gaps. Never stand still – chaos puts the police off.
• Nip police attempts to form lines or divide the crowd in the bud.
• Don’t be intimidated.
• Do everything in small teams, prepare in advance.
• Think defensively. Protect each other and escape routes.
• Always face outwards, ie. away from us and towards them.
• Link arms as often as possible, form barriers, use your body.
• Move quickly and calmly, never giving the police time to react.

Staying out of jail and hospital need not be hard work. Most people caught up in riots manage it. But with a bit of forethought you can turn surviving a public order situation into a living order situation!

The aims of the protestors
No one really ‘wins’ at the end of the day, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are unhurt, still free and some egg is still stuck to the face of your original target after the police have been and gone.

With all that in mind, we suggest you stick to these three basic aims when you find yourself in a riot:

1. Get you and your mates away safely, rather than fighting.
2. Find a place to cause embarrassment and economic damage to your real target, rather than fighting.
3. Help others in trouble by administering first aid and de-arresting, rather than fighting.

Sticking together
Always try to form an affinity group before setting out and at least have a buddy system whereby everybody has one person to look out for, and to act with, when a situation arises.

Affinity groups are just a handful of people who work together as a unit, as and when circumstances arise. They can meet beforehand to discuss ideas and possible reactions, practice or role play scenarios. The more your group meets, the quicker your reaction times will get and your effectiveness will improve. Affinity groups can often act without the need for internal discussion, they naturally develop their own shorthand communications and can divide up skills and equipment amongst each other. Water, D-locks, paint, first aid, food, banners and spare clothes is a lot for one person to carry, but divided up between five people it’s nothing.

Do pay attention to what you’re going to wear in advance. Consider precautions that are discrete, adaptable, easy to apply and discard. Thinking about these threats in advance will help:

1) Surveillance
Masking makes it difficult to identify individuals in a crowd and if everyone masks up no one will stand out. The cut off sleeve of a long sleeved t-shirt makes a good mask. Wear it casually around your neck. If you wear glasses use a cut off section of a stocking (hold-ups work best as they have thick elastic) instead of a t-shirt, this prevents glasses steaming up. You can use it as a hair-tie, if you’re a hippy type, until you need it.

A hooded top will cover most of your face and a baseball cap on its own provides good protection from most static cameras, which are usually mounted high up. Sunglasses give good protection against harmful rays including UV and CCTV. Worth bearing in mind is that the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 made an Amendment to Section 60 of The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. It gives any uniformed police officer the power to insist on the removal of any item of clothing a person is wearing or may wear for the purpose of concealment of identity. The item can be seized and retained.

2) Truncheon blows
A placard makes a good temporary shield and light strips of plastic under your clothing or on the forearm could offer some protection. Unless you are intending to try and break police lines, the best protective clothing is probably a good pair of running shoes. More recently, the WOMBLES - inspired by Italy’s Ya Basta group - have taken a more positive stance to protection by wearing thick layers of padding under their clothes, together with helmets. This enables them to keep police lines at bay, protecting themselves and the crowd behind them from truncheon blows. They are able to push through police lines and free demonstrators trapped by the use of a Section 60 (see later).

3) CS Spray
The best authorities suggest a solution of camden tablets (used to clean home brewing equipment), some say use lots of water, but its effectiveness is unclear. Whatever you do don’t rub it in or take a hot shower. If in doubt get clear and let the wind blow it away from your skin. This will take 20 minutes.

4) Baton charges
If you want to take a banner, use long strips of plastic haulage tarps rather than a sheet. This can be used as a moveable barrier to stop charging police or for you to advance behind. Wrap the ends in on themselves so the police can’t easily grab it. Hide behind and hold on tight.

If you aren’t doing anything else you should always be defending.

Whether that means securing a building, strengthening your position on the street, barricading (see later) or protecting others. Here are some ideas:

1. Keep looking outwards. For example, if someone is being given first aid, stand and face away from them.

2. Form cordons as much as possible. Anything the police want, including buildings and especially sound systems needs a strong outwardly facing cordon. Things may be quiet and you feel like a prick linking arms or holding hands with complete strangers, but do it. Repeat the mantra ‘It’s not a hippy peacenik thang, it’s a rock hard revolutionary thang.’ Take a leaf out of the police manual: stand like you’re about to do ‘the conga’ and stick your right hand down the back of the trousers of the person in front, repeat along the line, asking permission first. It’s virtually unbreakable.

3. Get into the habit of dancing with your back towards the sound system.

4. Someone needs to watch the police from a good vantage point, so that their next move can be pre-empted. On top of the sounds van is not a good place; no one can hear when you shout "Here come the dog handlers! Fucking run!" and any gestures you do will be interpreted as dancing…

5. Sitting down is good for dissuading the police from charging, but you should only do it in large numbers and the crowd needs to feel confident. We advise you to sit down as soon as the shout goes up, hesitating is not good, you can assess the situation once you’re down there. Hopefully others will do the same. If it still looks viable five seconds later, link arms with your neighbours. There are times when sitting down is not really recommended – horses are maybe too unpredictable but the authors have never seen horses charge into a seated crowd, the way they do into a standing crowd. It’s a good way to avoid the crowd getting split up. Some particularly violent gangs of police just aren’t worth it either. Only experience will teach you when to sit down.

6. Barricades can be more hassle than they are worth. A solid impassable barricade can reduce your own options when you need to run. Bear in mind that anything you build now you are likely to get dragged over later - leave out the barbed wire. The best barricades are random matter strewn all over the place – horses can’t easily charge over them, police find it hard to hold a line in among them, but individuals can easily pick their way through. If you know police are advancing from only one direction and you have clear escape routes behind, barricades can be sensible. The tactics the cops developed during the 1980’s riots was to drive the van into crowds with TSG [Tactical Support Group] in the back, jump out and arrest everyone they caught. Barricades are an effective way of stopping this.

7. The best form of defence of all is CHAOS! A complicated hierarchy needs orders to act on and those orders come from individuals making informed decisions. If the situation changes constantly they simply cannot keep up. Keep moving all the time, weave in and out of the crowd. Change your appearance. Open up new directions and possibilities, be unpredictable. If you find yourself stood still and passive for more than a minute then you’ve stopped acting defensively.

Basic police choreography
With any crowd the police will be looking to break it up as soon as possible. Crowd dispersal is achieved with baton charges, horse charges and sometimes CS gas and vehicles. Some particularly nasty or out of control units may pile straight into the crowd, but there is usually a gap between the time they arrive and the start of the dispersal. This stalling time is often just dithering by the commanding officer, or psyching-tooling up time for the troops (the latter is easy to spot). This aside, there are three more reasons why they aren’t wading straight in, see if you can spot them next time you’re waiting for ‘kick-off’:

1. They haven’t worked out where they’re going to disperse you to.
2. They want to gather more evidence/flush out more ring leaders. This involves keeping you right where they can see you and provoking you like hell. They will film you and photograph you and send out snatch squads to pick off individuals.
3. They are waiting for back up because you out number them or are in danger of gaining the upper hand.

However, since Euston Station, November 30th 1999, the police have been using the tactic of coralling people and preventing them from leaving. Section 60 of the Criminal Justice Act 1994 gives police blanket powers to stop and search anyone in a certain area where they ‘resonably suspect’ there will be incidents of serious violence. Often this tactic is used to gather information, but you’re not obliged to help. They can’t read anything of yours (address book, bank cards etc) and you don’t have to give a name or address, but they can search you for weapons only. Being held for hours is dispiriting, you can’t do much, and the police may push you about and provoke an opportunity to crack a few skulls. This is where the WOMBLES come into their own, you can take a more positive approach and not just wait around until the cops allow to let you leave. The old bill may also detain people to prevent a breach of the peace where they fear one is imminent. The legality of this is questionable, there will most likely be legal challenges in the near future.

The dance steps
OK, so they’ve stopped fucking around and now it’s time to send you home, with a great story to tell your friends (let’s face it, they won’t see the truth on the news). The bulk of the action is shocking in its predictability. The following will be repeated over and over, in different combinations, until they win or get bored:

1. Officers in lines will pen you in (preferably on the pavement).
2. Officers in lines will push into a crowd to divide it in half.
3. Batons/horses/CS spray attack penned in crowds to lower morale.
4. Charges that slowly push you down a street (rush of cops > > strengthen line > repeat).
5. Crowds throwing missiles will be ‘put to flight’, as it’s harder to throw stuff if you are running.
6. Shift changes. (Often look for the arrival of reinforcements. It is important to try and spot the difference for reasons of morale, and that they are vulnerable during shift changes).

Most of the above require the individual officers to be in tight lines, so it’s important to stop those lines forming. Unfortunately we are quite bad at this. The first line drawn is the most crucial and most people don’t see it coming. The police will try and form lines right in amongst you if they can, thus weakening your position at the same time as strengthening theirs.

Line dancing or stopping lines forming
If the crowd seems volatile, the police will hold right back and the first line drawn will be some distance away. But if you are all hanging around looking confused and passive they will sneak right in amongst you and the first lines will be dividing lines. This is how it works:

The first divide the crowd up into ‘actors’ and ‘viewers’. Small groups of officers will move into the crowd and start politely encouraging the timid ones onto the pavement. Once the crowd starts moving the way they want, those little groups of cops will get bigger and start joining up. Before you know it, there’s two crowds on two pavements with two lines of cops penning them in. Let the head cracking commence. Or…

• Don’t stand and watch them.
• Don’t look like you’ll let them get anywhere near you.
• Spot gaps in the crowd and fill them.
• Work out which space they want to take and get there with your mates first.
• Get long tarp banners to the front to stop them advancing and filming.
• Protect your escape routes by standing in them.
• Get those who have turned into spectators off the pavements, back in the crowd and moving around.

Of course, now having resisted being split up and penned in, they may just let fly with the baton charge. But at least you’re now in a stronger position to deal with it and escape. Whatever happens next, don’t just stand there waiting for it. If you’ve managed to get their line drawn far away, you’ve bought valuable time and space – so use it! Even if their line is right up against you, they still haven’t broken down your numbers.

However, it’s only a matter of time before the police try and get closer/break you up again. Use the time to get out of there slowly and in one block, this is the last thing they want – a large mob moving around freely. Whatever you do, don’t stand there waiting for them to try again. You are now in control to go and do whatever you want, so do it. If they have blocked your only exit, try…

Counter advancing
This involves moving your lines forward into theirs, thus gaining more space and opening up more exits. Use the front line as a solid wall, linking arms and moving slowly forward. Use the long banner like a snowplough (this stops them grabbing you or breaking the line, they can still hit you with truncheons though). If there’s enough of you WOMBLED up, your protective clothing will make that getaway that much safer and easier.

Snow plows
A line of crowd control barriers can also be carried by the front line like a snowplough to break into the police ranks. The front of the ‘plough’ can then be opened once their line is breached and the barriers pushed to the side to contain the cops. This all needs a lot of co-ordination and balls, the advantage gained will not last long, so push all your ranks forward through the gap straight away.

Using your body
Your body is your best and most adaptable tool. It is best used in concert with others. For instance it could take a long time for twenty to scale a wall, but stand two people against the wall, bowed together with their arms locked and you’ve got a set of human steps! (Those waiting to climb can link arms around the steps to protect them). Always look for ways to use your body to escape.

Keep looking for ways of increasing your numbers, by joining up with other groups and absorbing stragglers. Everyone has to get out and you’ll stand a better chance of getting out unharmed, with all your belongings and equipment if you leave together at the same time.

Snatch squads
When the police want to isolate and arrest an individual in a crowd they will usually employ a snatch squad.

Watch for groups of ten or so fully dressed cops, rallying behind the police lines. They will be instructed by evidence gatherers and a superior (you can often spot them pointing out the person to be snatched). The lines will open temporarily to let the squad through. Half the officers will perform the snatch, the other half will surround them with batons, hitting anyone who gets in the way. Once they have their target he/she is bundled away, back behind police lines.

Try and beat the snatch squad by:

1. Keeping the crowd moving around.
2. Spot the squad preparing.
3. If possible warn the target to get the hell out of the area.
4. Linking arms in an impenetrable wall in the squad’s path.
5. Surround the squad once they are in the crowd and intimidate them so much that they panic and give up.
6. If you are being grabbed or pressure pointed, keep your head and arms moving. Don’t lash out if you can help it, or you will end up with an assault charge too.

The best time is to do this is as soon as the snatch has happened. You need a group who know how to break grips and some people to act as blockers. Once you’ve got your person back all link arms and move off into the crowd. The police may try and snatch back or arrest one of the de-arresters.

This guide is an ongoing project. Please send your comments and additions to us for the next version, to ‘Public Order Guide’ c/o Manchester Earth First! Dept. 29, 255 Wilmslow Road, Manchester M14 5LW

Edited by, last reviewed 2006

Section 60 advice guide

Some information and tips on the law, your rights, and how to react when police have enforced a "Section 60" order on a demonstration or picket.

At some recent demonstrations, police have cordoned off the demonstration, corralling large numbers of people into an increasing confined area before taking their names, addresses and photographs, eventually releasing them one by one. This was done under the obscure Section 60 of the Criminal Justice & Public Order Act 1994 (originally designed to prevent minor football disturbances).

The S60 order is a new police tactic at major demonstrations used effectively to control, subdue and gain personal information about protesters despite having the extraordinarily limited power simply to "Stop and search in anticipation of violence".

Its effectiveness in the past was due to the fact that no-one knew just exactly what powers the police had under S60. As it turns out, they have very few powers.

In the event of an S60 order being issued these are the important things to remember: The police have the power to search you for weapons (and dangerous instruments). They have no other powers under S60. They can only detain you "for as long as necessary to carry out a search".

They have no legal power to force you to give them your name and address. Under no circumstances give it to them: it will be kept on file for seven years. When asked, say "no comment".

They have no legal power to force you to have your photograph taken. Do not allow them to do this. This too will be kept on file for seven years. Keep your head turned away, or put your hand in front of your face.

They have no legal power to ask you to remove any item of clothing in public view, other than that which is concealing your identity. Any facial masking can be confiscated.

If you are asked to remove coats/jumpers etc, refuse outright. They have no legal power to search wallets, purses, inside small pockets etc. This is an S60 search, for weapons only. If they ask to search wallets, purses, inside small pockets etc, refuse outright.

If you have a bag they will search that, but again for weapons only. Any other items, documents, potentially incriminating articles are off limits.

Do not allow them to examine any of your personal possessions (cash cards, student cards, diaries, organisers etc). This is not part of S60. Under Article 8 of the UK Human Rights Act 1998 your privacy is assured. Make sure they know this. They can only confiscate weapons and facial masking.

They have the power to use "reasonable force" but ONLY if you do not submit to a search. No other force can be used for any other purpose.

They must tell you their name, number, station they're based at the reason for the search. Ask them for this. Not only will it piss them, off but if they don't provide this information the search will be illegal. Remember: in an S60 situation, you are accused of nothing and you have done nothing wrong. Do not answer any questions, however insignificant or polite. Say "no comment" to everything.

Most of all, don't be scared by them! They know the law, and now so do you. Use it!

Legal advice: Section 60
Contrary to information being circulated, the legal basis of the tactic of police cordoning off demonstrations and forbidding large numbers of people to leave from inside the cordon - as used at J18, N30 and Mayday2K - is NOT s60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

Police, indeed anyone, can use reasonable force to detain people to prevent a breach of the peace where they fear one is imminent. This was the basis of the effective mass imprisonment at previous demonstrations. It is not an arrest.

The powers in s60 have been used to search people individually as they are being released from the cordon and this is where the confusion stems from.

S60 can be used where a senior cop reasonably suspects there will be incidents of serious violence or that people are carrying dangerous weapons or offensive weapons in a locality (inserted by s8 Knives Act 1997).

1. Once police have released you from the cordoned area, they can then only detain you "for as long as necessary to carry out a search". While in the cordoned area they can detain you as long as they have reasonable (i.e. objectively justifiable) grounds that this is necessary to prevent a breach of the peace.

2. While performing a search they can ask you to remove outer clothing, such as coats and jumpers in public. In addition, s60(4A) - inserted by s25 CDA 1998 - allows the police to force you to remove anything they reasonably suspect you are wearing wholly or mainly to conceal your identity. There is nothing to stop you putting something else on after you have taken off a mask or had it confiscated.

3. The s60 search is for "offensive weapons or dangerous instruments". This is not limited to large things such as samurai swords and stun guns (taking examples from certain Sunday papers) but can include razor blades. They can search inside wallets, purses, small pockets for these.

4. They can search personal possessions for dangerous instruments that might be hidded inside and they can also seize prohibited articles such as drugs. While it is true that Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) contains a qualified right of respect for your private life, and that under s6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 public authorities such as the police will be acting unlawfully if they breach any right in the ECHR, it is wrong to see this as doing something as absolute as assuring your privacy.

Before police start searching through personal possessions, e.g. address books, cards in wallet, warn them politely that if they do start trying to read what's in your address book or on the cards in your wallet rather than performing a cursory search, i.e. seeing if razor blades fall out onto the ground from your address book, they will be acting outside their powers and you will stop them.

8. Before conducting the search, an officer must take reasonable steps to communicate their name, number, station, etc. They also have to provide you with a written record of the search, which you should ask for. If they can't provide one straight away they must tell you which police station you can get it from. Police dislike form filling and paperwork particularly when it leaves less time to bash anti-capitalists and then fit them up.

9. Under the Data Protection Act, anyone holding personal data relating to other people (this includes video and photographic footage) has to provide copies to those people for £10, as demonstrated by Mark Thomas on C4. If substantial numbers of people on the Mayday demonstration exercise this right, the police will have to spend their resources on finding footage with those individuals on, in order to collate it and send it to them, rather than gathering intelligence and preparing for arrests.

Taken from the UHC Collective website
Edited by, last reviewed 2006

Terrorism Act 2000 guide

A quick guide and brief summary of the parts of the British Terrorism Act 2000 of relevance to radical workers.

"Terrorism" is defined very widely and could include what people would normally think of as direct action. It gives the Police very wide powers to stop search and arrest, and limits people's rights - including on arrest. The Act has been (mis-)used extensively against workers - most famously against 82-year-old Walter Wolfgang who heckled Tony Blair and the Labour Party conference in 2005.1

Terrorism as defined by S1 of the TA 2000
It includes:
The THREAT of action (threat is enough - no actual action needed)-which is designed to influence the government , with the purpose of advancing a political or ideological cause, involving :
- serious damage to property
- interference with or seriously disrupting an electronic system.

This is only part of the definition, and does not include actions which we would normally think of as being defined as terrorism.

All 3 parts must be satisfied to come within the definition - there must be an act or threat (of eg serious damage to property), it must be done to influence the government, and it must be to advance a political or ideolgical cause.

S33 Cordoned areas
Where the Police are undertaking a "terrorist investigation (preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism- see definition above) they can cordon off an area. Lasts for 14 days, can be extended to max of 28 days.
While an area is cordoned, Police can order people to leave and prohibit access to that area.

Police can arrest at any time anyone they reasonably suspect to be a terrorist (see definition above). Detention can be for up to 48 hours (extension can then be applied for to court) access to a lawyer can be denied and normal PACE rules do not apply.

Police can stop and search to see if a person has anything on them to prove they are a terrorist - must be same sex search.

S44 Stop and search powers
Authorization is given by Assistant Chief Constable and can only be given to prevent acts of terrorism.
It relates to a specified area and can last for up to 28 days.

It an only be used to search for things that could be used for terrorism, BUT Police can search even if they don't have grounds to suspect that people have anything on them of this kind.

They can search pedestrians and anything carried by them, cars, drivers passengers and anything they have with them

Police can't ask for removal of any clothing in public except hats shoes jacket/coat and gloves.

Police can detain people for as long as is reasonable to search

Police can use "reasonable force"

If you are searched under this section you can ask for a written statement from the police to confirm you were stopped, and they must give you one - so that makes it all OK then!

Where an authorisation is given it must be confirmed (or cancelled) by the Secretary of State within 48 hours.

Failing to stop is an offence max sentence 6 months or a fine.

S57 Possession for Terrorist Purposes
It's an offence to possess an "article " ("substance or any other thing") in circumstances which give rise to a reasonable suspicion that it's connected with the prearation of instigation of acts of terrorism. It's enough if it's found in the house you live in - unless you can prove that you didn't know it was there

S58 Collection of information
It's an offence to collect or have information likely to be useful to someone preparing an act of terrorism (see S1 definition above). This can include photos or e-mails, unless you can prove that you had a "reasonable excuse "to have it.

Taken from the UHC Collective website
Edited by, last reviewed 2006

An activist's guide to basic first aid

A short guide to health care and first aid to be used on demonstrations or during direct action when injuries are possible, such as large pickets, blockades or demonstrations.

What to wear
- Comfortable, protective shoes that you can run in.
- Clothing covering all your skin to protect from sun and pepper spray exposure.
- Shatter-resistant eye protection (ie. Sunglasses, swim goggles, or gas mask)
- Bandana to cover nose and mouth soaked in water or vinegar, it can aid breathing during chemical exposure.
- Weather-related gear (ie. Rain gear or sun hat)
- Heavy duty gloves if you plan to handle hot tear gas canisters.
- Fresh clothes in plastic bag (in case yours get contaminated by chemical weapons)
- A cap or a hat to protect from the sun and from chemical weapons.

What to bring
- Lots of water in a plastic bottle with squirt or spray top, to drink and to wash your skin and eyes in need be.
- Energy snacks
- A small medi-kit with bandages, plasters, tape etc.
- Identification and/or emergency contact information ONLY if you want to be cited out of jail in the event of an arrest.
- Just enough money for pay-phone, food, transportation.
- Watch, paper, pen for accurate documentation of events, police brutality, injuries.
- Water or alcohol based sunscreen.
- Inhaler, epipen, insulin or other meds if applicable.
- Several days of prescription medication and doctor's note in case of arrest.
- Menstrual pads, if needed. Avoid using tampons; if you're arrested you may not have a chance to change it (tampons left in for more than six hours increase your risk of developing toxic shock syndrome)

What not to do
- Don't put Vaseline, mineral oil, oil-based sunscreen or moisturisers on skin as they can trap chemicals.
- Don't wear contact lenses, which can trap irritating chemicals underneath.
- Don't wear things that can easily be grabbed (ie. Dangly earrings or other jewellery, ties, loose hair)
- Don't go to the demo alone, if you can help it. It is best to go with an affinity group or some friends who know you well.
- Don't forget to eat food and DRINK LOTS OF WATER.

Medication in jail
If you are risking arrest and take medication for any health condition that might pose serious problems were your medication to be interrupted ( such as: behavioural disorders, HIV, diabetes, hypertension) you should be aware that you may not have access to proper medication while you are in jail. A letter from a doctor will help. Three copies are needed, one for the legal team, one for the medical team, and one for you. It should include your name, diagnosis, that you must have access to medication at all times, a list of all meds required and a statement that you can must be allowed to keep meds on person to administer properly, and that no substitutions are acceptable.

Since your name will be on the document, you may want to hide it on your body as a sort of insurance policy - perhaps you won't need it and then could eat it and participate in jail solidarity tactics, but perhaps you'll be worn out already at the time of arrest and will want to cite out in order to take care of yourself. Better to cite than pass out.

Make sure that your affinity group and the legal team is aware of your needs so they can help care and advocate for you.

Blood, bruises and broken bones
The most common injuries on demonstrations are cuts or bruises sustained either by falling over whilst running or following a kicking from the cops. They are usually minor and treatable 'on site' though some will require hospital treatment.

Bruises require little treatment and it may be the case that you or an injured comrade need simply to rest for a while, whereas cuts should be treated with a plaster or bandage. If bleeding is heavy this can be stopped by firm direct pressure on the source for 5/10 minutes. If an artery has been cut and bleeding is severe, a tourniquet will be needed for short-term management but proper medical attention must be sought if blood loss continues.

Use a scarf, bandana, belt or torn shirt sleeve and tie around the arm or leg directly over the bleeding area and tighten until the bleeding slows. Wrap the injury to protect it and get the hero to a hospital - fast. I someone has glass or metal lodged in their body DO NOT ATTEMPT to remove it: this could cause further injury and increase the risk of infection.

If a limb appears to be broken or fractured, improvise a splint before moving the victim. Place a stiff backing behind the limb and wrap both with a bandage. Try to avoid moving the injured limb. This person needs to go to hospital for an x-ray and treatment.

Head injuries have to be approached with more caution than other body parts. Following a head injury it is essential that the person has an x-ray within 24 hours. Again, bleeding can be stopped by applying direct pressure. If the person is unconscious, do not attempt to move them: this could exacerbate the injuries already sustained: seek professional medical attention.

Internal injuries can occur from blows to the kidneys. These are usually accompanied by nausea, vomiting, shock and persistent abdominal pain. Get prompt professional care.

And finally...
Remember the best protection against injury is our awareness. We must be alert and on guard for possible situations where injury may occur and keep an eye out for our comrades. We have to look after ourselves on actions and we hope that this information has been of help to fellow activists. We welcome feedback and further advice in order to provide ourselves with the best protection whilst out on the front-line of the revolutionary struggle.

Taken from the UHC Collective website
Edited by, last reviewed 2006

Dealing with the police

'What's next?' - A Guide to the Post-Charge Legal Process

Being prosecuted can be a confusing and intimidating experience. This guide sets out what you can expect at each stage in this process and how you can put yourself in the strongest possible position as a (potential) defendant. This guide was compiled by the Green and Black Cross.

So you were arrested for protesting and the authorities have decided to charge you with an offence: what happens next?

Being prosecuted can be a confusing and intimidating experience. This guide sets out what you can expect at each stage in this process and how you can put yourself in the strongest possible position as a (potential) defendant.

We will cover:

1 Legal Representation
2 The Prosecution Process
3 Possible Outcomes
4 Potential Sentences
5 FAQs

1. Legal Representation

Legal representation is the first thing to consider after being charged with an offence.
Do you have a solicitor experienced in protest cases?

Yes: Get in touch with them as soon as possible
No: Contact one of the recommend solicitors listed here

For a more detailed overview of the role of solicitors in defence cases, please consult this handy guide produced by the Legal Defence Monitoring Group (LDMG).

1 Legal Costs and Legal Aid
2 Representing Yourself
3 Putting in the Legwork

1. Legal Costs and Legal Aid

Having a solicitor represent you costs money. If you cannot afford the cost of legal representation, the state may pay part or all of your fees via a scheme known as ‘Legal Aid’. Whether you qualify for legal aid or not depends on your financial circumstances and and the seriousness and complexity of your case. Sadly, due to cuts, much fewer people now qualify. However: if your case is a serious one and/or you are unemployed or or on a low income, there is a good chance you will receive some form of state support with legal costs if you are prosecuted.

Solicitors sometimes agree to represent people who don’t qualify for legal aid, because one or more of their co-defendants does, allowing people to effectively ‘piggyback’ on the aid other people receive. If you do not qualify and are being tried as part of a group involving others who do, it is worth asking your solicitor about whether this is a possibility (assuming you have the same one). If you wish to find out if you qualify for legal aid you should contact one of our recommended solicitors.

More information on eligibility is available on the Citizens’ Advice Bureau website.

Solicitors' bills and fines are not the only costs you might face if you are prosecuted – travelling to and from court can be a costly business, particularly if the court is at the other end of the country

2. Representing Yourself

If you cannot afford or do not want to be represented by a solicitor, you will need to represent yourself in court. If you are doing this for the first time, we strongly recommend you get in contact with us or with LDMG, as we can help support you through this process. A detailed guide to defending yourself – produced by the Civil Liberties Trust and annotated by LDMG – is also available here. Defendants who represent themselves in court can – at the discretion of the judge – have someone stood with them during proceedings called a McKenzie friend. If you would like someone to act as a McKenzie Friend during your court appearances, please contact the Activist Court Aid Brigade.

3. Putting in the Legwork

Even if you do end up being represented by a solicitor, this does not mean you can simply let them get on with it without any input from you. It is important for you to:
1) Keep in contact with them.
2) Assist them in building a strong defence case by gathering evidence (e.g. film footage) and witnesses.

about_solicitors.pdf243.19 KB

2. The Prosecution Process

The process of being prosecuted can be broken down into different stages.

In this section, we will concern ourselves with the stages from the Initial Hearing to the Trial. The next two sections cover Judgment and Sentencing, while the process of charged is examined in detail in our guide to arrest.

The Initial Hearing

If you are charged with an offence, the ‘charge sheet’ presented to you by the police will specify the date for an initial hearing. This will take place at a magistrates court. This initial hearing is not your trial. Defendants are expected to surrender to the court 30 minutes before their hearing time. So if your charge sheet says your hearing time is 9:00am, you should aim to get there for at least 8:30am.

At the initial hearing, the magistrates will decide what kind of court your trial will be heard in: a magistrates court (presided over by 3 lay persons or one stipendiary magistrate) or a crown court (presided over by a professional judge, and jury). Some minor offences – such as willful obstruction of the highway – can only be heard in a magistrates (‘summary only offences’), while other more serious offences can only be heard in a crown court (‘indictable only offences’). There are also what are known as ‘triable either way’ which means that they can be heard in either type of court. In such cases, the magistrates at your initial hearing will decide on whether your case is simple enough to be tried by them or instead ought to be moved to a crown court.

If your case is to be heard in a magistrates, you will then be asked to enter a plea of ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’. If your case is to be heard in a crown court, the court will adjourn and a later date will be set at a crown court for what is known as the Plea and Trial Preparation Hearing (PTPH), at which you will also enter a plea.

1. Entering a Plea

Activists are sometimes keen to plead guilty to an offence simply to get legal proceedings over and done with as quickly as possible, particularly when their supposed offence is a minor, non-imprisonable one such as obstruction of the highway. However, it is worth giving serious consideration to pleading ‘not guilty’. Many things can and do go wrong with prosecution cases and sometimes the evidence brought against activists is so flimsy that the CPS and the police seem to just be hoping that people will automatically accept their own guilt.
In one recent example, an anti-fracking activist – charged with using threatening or abusive language in a manner that was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress – had the case against them dismissed by magistrates because the prosecution’s only evidence was the testimony of one police officer who did not claim they were left feeling harassed, alarmed or distressed.
If you plead ‘guilty’ then proceedings will move directly to sentencing. If you plead ‘not guilty’ then several things will happen:

- The magistrate will make arrangements for the trial hearing, i.e. the date, length and place.
- Bail will be set again, often the bail conditions will be dropped or changed.
- Other dates may be set, e.g. for the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service – they conduct the case for the police) to provide (disclose) their evidence.
- Both the defence and the prosecution will be asked to address questions relating to ‘trial preparation'(formerly ‘case management’ – for more on this, see below).

2. Bail

At the initial hearing the court might decide to either uphold or impose (fresh) bail conditions upon you, such as banning you from a protest camp or being on a particular stretch of road. These conditions can be challenged by your solicitor or yourself, if you are self-representing. Breaking bail conditions is not itself an offence, although failing to surrender at the allotted date and time is. If you do break conditions you can be arrested and held on remand (i.e. in custody) until your next trial date. However: you cannot be remanded if the offence you are charged with does not carry the possibility of a custodial sentence. As such, if you are charged only with having willfully obstructed the highway – which is not an imprisonable offence – you will not be remanded for breaking any bail conditions.

If you break conditions relating to an imprisonable offence, you could be held in custody until your next court date to prevent you committing further offences. Magistrates take failure to comply with conditions imposed by them – rather than the police – much more seriously and it is ultimately they who decide whether or not to remand you.

Trial Preparation/Case Management

Trial preparation (formerly case management) is an early stage in the prosecution process in which the court attempts to identify what the core issues in dispute are and to determine whether or not they can be narrowed down before trial. This will usually involve both sides producing a list of witnesses they intend to call during the trial and outlining to the court the general arc of their case.

On the basis of the submissions given by both the prosecution and the defence, the magistrate(s)/judge will make a decision as regards to when the trial will take place and how long it is likely to take (effectively: how many days to book out the court for). They will then possibly give further directions concerning when the prosecution have to disclose all their evidence or the date by which the defence has to serve the prosecution with an outline of their arguments (the defence statement).

Discussions around trial preparation or case management take place after the defendant has entered their plea. Thus: for trials in the magistrates, it takes place during the initial hearing, while in the crown court, it occurs at the Plea and Trial Preparation Hearing.


At the trial the prosecution will attempt to prove to the court that you have committed the offence of which you have been charged. Often this will involve them calling witnesses and discussing physical evidence such as CCTV footage or forensic data. Your solicitor (or, if you are self-representing, you) will be given a chance to question (‘cross examine’) the witnesses for the prosecution. Once the prosecution has finished putting forward their case, it is your turn and you or your representative will attempt to show the court that you did not commit the crime in question.

3. Possible Outcomes

The court process can end in different ways. Many protest cases do not get as far as sentencing, and it is extremely rare to get a prison sentence.

If you are charged with a criminal offence, there are four possible outcomes:

1. The CPS may drop the case against you altogether – this can happen at any stage of the proceedings, even on the day of the trial itself.
2. The judge or magistrate may throw the case out. Again this can happen at any stage, but most frequently would be during the trial, for example if the police did not turn up to give evidence, or the judge thought your defence case was strong enough by halfway through the trial.
3. The trial may proceed to its end and you may be found not guilty of the alleged offence.
4. You may decide to plead guilty or you may be found guilty at the end of the trial. There will then be a sentence given to you. Sometimes this will happen at the end of the trial itself, but often it does not. If you are possibly facing time in prison, the judge will ask the Probation Service for a ‘Pre-Sentence Report’ (PSR), and a further date will be set for sentencing. You may then decide to appeal against the verdict or the sentence. In that case, the legal procedure, will continue.

If you wish to appeal your sentence: either speak to your solicitor or, if you are self-representing, contact Activist Court Aid Brigade.

4. Sentencing

If you either plead or are found guilty, the judge will pass a sentence.

Sentences usually consist of a fine, a suspended sentence or a community order (which could require you to perform community service, not enter a certain area etc). On the very very rare occasions that a custodial sentence (prison) is given, there are other groups – such as your local branch of the Anarchist Black Cross- that can help support you both before and during your time inside.

Detailed sentencing guidelines for offences tried in magistrates courts (i.e. those offences which are ‘summary only’ such as willful obstruction of the highway, or ‘either way’ offences which can be tried in the magistrates such as theft) are available here. But for ease of reference, the following table sets out the sentences you could expect to receive if you were convicted of the most common protest related offences:

Prosecution Costs:
In the event that you are found guilty, the CPS will ask the court for a contribution – from you – towards the costs they have incurred in bringing this case (i.e. fees for the CPS solicitors etc). The amount you will be required to pay is ultimately decided by the judge/magistrate(s) but is dependent on a number of factors including, for example, if and when in the proceedings you plead guilty, whether you are in a magistrates or a crown court and what kind of hearing it was (e.g. an appeal of sentence as opposed to a trial).

More information on the costs scale used by the CPS and the courts is available here.

Victim Surcharge:
In addition to any fine handed to you by the court and an amount for prosecution costs, individuals convicted of criminal offences are obliged to pay what is called a ‘victim surcharge’. How much you are obliged to pay depends on the sentence you are given but it ranges from £20 to £170.

Making a Claim Against the Police:
If your case is thrown out or dropped along the way, you could consider taking a civil action against the police. Get in touch with us and we can advise you on how best to do this. There is also a guide to making civil claims against the police on our website.

5. FAQs

1. My bail sheet says I have to report to a police station/court on a certain date – What happens if I cannot make that date?

If, for whatever reason, you are unable to report to a police station/court on the date given on your bail sheet, you should let your solicitor know at the earliest possible opportunity. If you are representing yourself please get in contact with us.

2. What happens if I fail to turn up at all?

Failure to surrender to bail – failing to turn on the date given on your bail sheet whether to a court or to return to a police station – is a crime (Section 6 Bail Act 1976). Although it should be said, the courts take failure to surrender to the cops far less seriously than skipping court and CPS guidelines state that failure to answer police bail should not be prosecuted at all where the substantive case is dropped. The likelihood of the police actively pursuing your arrest and the severity of any punishment you may eventually incur will depend on the perceived severity of the offence (and, of course, whether you are convicted). But if you fail to attend a court hearing, we recommend getting in touch with your lawyer and/or us as soon as possible.

3. Will a conviction impact my employability?

Employers can’t turn someone down for a job because they’ve been convicted of an offence if the conviction or caution is ‘spent’ – unless an exception applies (see below). Convictions with a sentence of 4 years or less will become spent after a certain period of time. This is known as a ‘rehabilitation period’. Its length depends on how severe the penalty was. You can find out the rehabilitation periods of different penalities here.

A very small number of jobs do require you to disclose spent convictions, as these job are exempt from the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. These exceptions include working in the medical profession, solicitors, accountants, school-based jobs and other roles involving the supervision of people under the age of 18. Criminal record checks are typically required to take up these roles and spent convictions and cautions will be recorded by them.

Very few jobs (outside of being a police officer) require you to have no criminal record at all, although certain convictions can debar you from becoming a solicitor (and even minor offences can make it significantly harder). Unless you have been convicted for a serious violence offence, supplying drugs or sexual offences, having a criminal record will not necessarily prevent you from working with children. Whether or not it makes it harder depends on the attitudes of your potential employer and the circumstances of your supposed wrongdoing.

More information on how a criminal record might impact your paid or voluntary work is available from the Unlock Information Hub.

4. Can I crowdfund the money I need to pay a fine?

We advise against explicitly crowd funding to pay fines, as it could – in theory – encourage the court to increase the figure you have to pay (as a crowdfunder campaign could be seen as increasing your means). However, there is no problem with crowd funding for court costs and general campaign expenses – including travel expenses.

Can I be ‘pre-emptively’ arrested?

In case you missed it: Roger Hallam, one of the co-founders of Extinction Rebellion, has been ‘pre-emptively’ arrested the day before he – and other members of XR splinter Heathrow Pause – were due to disrupt flights at Heathrow airport using remotely piloted drones. While the notion of a ‘pre-emptive arrest’ has a decidedly Orwellian ring to it (the term comes directly from Heathrow Pause’s press release), it’s important to realise that there’s nothing particularly unusual about this, and that the police have broad ranging powers to arrest people before they (appear to) have committed a substantive offence.

Breach of the Peace:

The arrest of activists in the run up to demonstrations is an age-old tradition in this country, usually carried out in the name of “protecting the queen’s peace”. According to the modern authority on the issue – R. v. Howell [1982] QB 416 – a breach of the peace occurs “when a person reasonably believes harm will be caused, or is likely to be caused, to a person or in his presence to his property, or a person is in fear of being harmed through an assault, affray, riot, unlawful assembly, or some other form of disturbance”. R v. Howell also confirmed the long-standing common law power of police officers to place people under arrest in order to prevent an imminent breach of the peace (that they reasonably and honestly believed would have occurred had the arrest not taken place). The most (in)famous recent instance of this took place on the morning of the Royal Wedding 2011, when the Met arrested and detained anti-royalist activists at several locations across Central London, eventually releasing them without charge once the festivities had ended. When the legality of this decision was challenged, the Supreme Court firmly sided with the police, ruling that preventative detention of this sort was fully compatible with the activists’ Article 5 right to liberty and security [R (Hicks) v Commissioner of the Police for the Metropolis].

Conspiracy and Inchoate Offences:

The arrest of Hallam and other members of Heathrow Pause was not, however, undertaken to prevent a breach of the peace. According to the Met, they were arrested for ‘conspiracy to commit public nuisance’. The law against ‘public nuisance’ and its use against protestors is a topic that will be explored fully in a later article. What concerns us here is the charge of ‘conspiracy’.

Criminal conspiracy is what’s known as an ‘inchoate offence‘: an offence which relates to a criminal act which has not (yet) been committed. Other examples include attempting to commit an offence (contrary to s1(1) of the Criminal Attempts Act 1981) or encouraging or assisting an offence (contrary to s44 of the Serious Crime Act 2007). It is thus possible for a person to commit an inchoate offence before or without the ‘main criminal act’ (ever) taking place, or without them having any intention of personally participating in the act.

As defined by Section 1(1) of the Criminal Law Act 1977, an offence of criminal conspiracy is committed when one person agrees with any other person(s) to undertake a course of action which, if the agreement is carried out, would amount to or involve the commission of a crime. Importantly, no one need perform the agreed course of action for the offence of conspiracy to be committed; the actus reus (wrongful action) is simply the agreement to commit a crime. Consequently, a group of people pledging to illegally disrupt a major transport hub does potentially constitute, in and of itself, a criminal offence for which the participants could be arrested, tried and punished (even if they never got around to disrupting anything).

For this reason, today’s arrests cannot – strictly speaking – be regarded as ‘pre-emptive’. The crime Hallam et al have allegedly committed has already taken place: the agreement to perform an illegal act.

Since the first appearance of XR’s forebear, Rising Up, the activist legal support community has been warning that getting people to publicly ‘sign up’ to illegal activity in advance is a sure-fire way of building a conspiracy case against you. Today’s arrests prove the prescience of these warnings, even if they afford us little by the way of satisfaction (state repression never does).

Can I hide my face from facial recognition cameras?

Widespread police deployment of facial recognition cameras has been in the offing for a while now. Last year there were trials of automated facial recognition (AFR) technology by a number of forces around the country, most notably South Wales Police, whose use of AFR in town centres, as well as football matches and protests, was challenged in the High Court. In that case, the High Court ruled in favour of South Wales Police, stating that, while the use of AFR interfered with the privacy rights of individuals, such inteference was legal, and fully “consistent with the requirements of the Human Rights Act and the data protection legislation.” An appeal on this ruling is set to be heard some time before January 2021.

The Met have chosen to interpret this judgement as giving them the green light for widespread operational deployment of live facial recognition cameras. The fact that the High Court judgement probably doesn’t provide sufficient legal basis for this move1 appears to be of little concern to the Met, who – undoubtedly emboldened by the rhetoric of both central government and the leading London mayoral candidates – appear to have started unilaterally asserting new powers, rather than requesting them from government.

Failing a win in the courts, however, it seems likely that facial recognition cameras will be playing a much more extensive role in frontline policing. For this reason, it’s important for people to know – and make use of – the limited protections afforded them by the law.

Can I hide my face from facial recognition cameras?

As a general rule, unless you’ve been arrested, you are not legally obliged to comply with police attempts to photograph or film you, and you are well within your rights to hide or obscure your face and/or walk away from (marked or unmarked) facial recognition cameras.

In practice, however, the police often view non-compliance with street filming/overt surveillance operations as constituting suspicious behaviour, giving them grounds to ask you questions (which you don’t have to answer) and/or stop and search you (which, legally, you do have to comply with). It’s important to remember that if you are stop and searched, you are not obliged to give the police your name or other personal details2 and that the cops should only be going into your wallet or ID holder if it could reasonably be the location of whatever it is they say they are looking for (e.g. not if they are looking for spray paint). For more infomation on your rights when stop and searched have a look at this guide.

What if they ask me to remove a face covering?

If the police are using facial recognition cameras and an officer stops you to request that you remove a scarf or mask that is obscuring your face, you are not obliged to comply unless a Section 60AA order is in place. If s60AA is in force, however, failure to comply with a request to remove a face covering or other disguising items is a criminal offence.

But what about that guy who was fined for hiding his face?

Back in May last year, various newspapers were reporting that the police had fined a man for hiding his face from facial recognition cameras in Romford town centre. As I detailed at the time, this simply wasn’t the case: the man was fined for swearing at the cops, not for covering his face. But the incident still served a useful function for the police, sending a clear message to the public that you challenge police surveillance at your own risk.

The question we face is how to collectivise this risk; how can we effect mass disruption of these new mechanisms of control in ways that are both sustainable and effective? Developing a culture of consistently masking up on demos is a good start but we need to start thinking beyond this, about how we can resist the forms of police surveillance that are increasingly permeating our everyday lives.

Carl Spender

  • 1. As the Biometrics Commissioner Prof Paul Wiles points out: “This is a step-change in the use of LFR by the UK police, given that the technology will be deployed fully operationally rather than on a trial basis. Although the court found South Wales’ use of LFR to be consistent with the requirements of the Human Rights Act and data protection legislation, that judgment was specific to the particular circumstances in which South Wales police used their LFR system.”
  • 2. There are various situations in which you are obliged to provide your name and address (if the police suspect you of anti-social behaviour, for example) but none of these are stop and search powers.

Can immigration officers arrest me for obstruction?

Several activists have been arrested for allegedly obstructing immigration enforcement operations. In each case, the arrests were made by immigration officers themselves rather than the police. Understandably, this has caused some confusion amongst activists about the arrest powers wielded by immigration officers. Carl Spender is here to shed some light on the matter. This guide was originally published by Freedom.

In moral terms, there are few things lower than immigration officers. While cops can cling to the illusion that their job is fundamentally about protecting the public, the explicit purpose of the Home Office’s Immigration Enforcement division is to identify and locate ‘unwanted foreigners’ and destroy their lives, through arrest, detention and deportation. I’ll leave it to the reader to speculate on the kind of person that would want to become an immigration officer; here, I’m merely concerned with the legal powers the state has wisely decided to confer upon such people.

1. Ordinary immigration officers (IOs) are not ‘constables’

The term ‘constable’ can refer to one of two things in Britain:

(i) The lowest rank of police officer.
(ii) The legal term for someone endowed with the powers of a police officer.

All police officers, irrespective of their rank, are constables in this second sense, but the legal category of ‘constable’ also includes people who are not police officers (for example Cathedral constables).

Constables, in the broader, legal sense, are accorded powers of detention, search and arrest that extend well beyond the legal powers of ordinary citizens. Section 24 of PACE, for example, allows a constable to arrest, without a warrant:

(a)anyone who is about to commit an offence;
(b)anyone who is in the act of committing an offence;
(c)anyone whom he has reasonable grounds for suspecting to be about to commit an offence;
(d)anyone whom he has reasonable grounds for suspecting to be committing an offence.

Ordinary immigration officers – the kind who typically undertake checks and raids – are NOT constables under British law and consequently do not have these same wide ranging powers. That said, such powers are granted to members of IE’s Criminal and Financial Investigations (CFI) unit, who take additional qualifications that give them the same PACE authority as a Detective Sergeant in the police. These are not, however, the officers you usually see on the streets of Britain.

2. Nonetheless: ordinary IOs can arrest people for certain offences

Schedule 2 and Section 28A (& 28AA) of the Immigration Act 1971 do give ordinary IOs limited powers to arrest people for a variety of immigration-related offences. For example, s 28A(1)(a) gives an IO the power to arrest a non-British national whom they have reasonable grounds to suspect has entered the country in violation of a deportation order.

Although they aren’t technically constables, any arrest made by an IO under a criminal power such as s 28A, must still be conducted in accordance with PACE regulations. For example, the suspicion which leads them to make an arrest ought to be ‘reasonable’ and based on objective evidence, rather than private prejudice. However, as ever, there is a long way between what the law says in theory, and how it is enforced in practice….

3. IOs CAN arrest you for obstructing them

Section 26 (1)(g) of the Immigration Act creates the offence of obstructing, without reasonable excuse, an immigration officer or other person acting in execution of the Act. Section 28A(5) also gives IOs (in addition to police officers) the power to arrest people for the offence.

A person can be said to be obstructing an IO when, without reasonable excuse, they prevent them from lawfully carrying out their duties or make it more difficult for them to do so by means of “physical or other unlawful activity” (CPS Legal Guidance, Annex: Table of Immigration Offences p.8). Merely refusing to do something would not ordinarily qualify as an obstruction, unless there is a legal requirement to do what is requested by the immigration official.

Thus: while restraining an IO to prevent them from making a lawful arrest would certainly constitute an unlawful obstruction, telling someone stopped by immigration officers that they are not legally obliged to answer questions and are free to walk away – as per the Anti-Raids Network advice – would not qualify as such. Indeed, informing someone of their rights would only constitute an obstruction if it was done in such a way that it prevented immigration officers from otherwise carying out their duty (e.g. repeatedly yelling “you don’t have to answer!” in order to prevent an IO from speaking to someone).

The usual caveat applies, however: just because it’s lawful doesn’t mean they won’t nick you for it.

4. Why the recent flurry of arrests?

As far as we can tell, the recent arrests of activists were not planned or pre-meditated. Instead, it seems that IOs have decided – or been instructed – to arrest those who challenge them without calling for police back up. While this could be the result of policing cuts, it seems probable that the virulently anti-migrant rhetoric of the Tories has emboldened Immigration Enforcement to start flexing its legal muscle.

From previous cases, we know that IE’s Criminal and Financial Investigations unit have, for a number of years, been attempting to build a conspiracy case against anti-raids activists. So far, they have been entirely unsuccessful, partly due to their ineptitude when it comes to detective work. Indeed, all one hears from people arrested by IOs are tales of farcical incompetence, with arresting officers unable to perform even the most basic tasks required to ‘book-in’ a suspect at the station.

As comical as these stories may be, power and incompetence are a dangerous combination and nothing good can come from having pumped-up Immigration Officers prowling our streets. It is therefore vitally important that people understand what they can do if they encounter an immigration enforcement operation in progress.

Photo credit: Bristol Anti-Raids.

Do you have to give your fingerprints to police?

Going on protests can often be a legal minefield, which is why you need to know your stuff when you go on them. Below, a member of the Activist Court Aid Brigade talks through the most frequently asked questions on fingerprinting. This guide was first published by Freedom.

There’s nothing new about police mobile fingerprinting. Contrary to what Liberty would have you believe, British cops have been using portable fingerprint scanners for over half a decade. They were first deployed in the capital back in 2013, following extensive trials by 24 regional police forces. The practice never quite became a staple of frontline policing, as the first generation of scanners proved to be costly, slow and unreliable. That all looks set to change, however, with last year’s announcement of a new mobile app-scanner combo that will allow officers to check fingerprints against both criminal and immigration records in a matter of seconds.

The rationale for the new system is much the same as that of its predecessor: it will save the police money (the new scanners reportedly cost 1/10th of their forebears) and increase the time officers can spend on ‘the frontline’, by allowing them to identify “suspects” who refuse to provide their details without the need to trundle to and from a station. In a curious twist, the government also claims that rapid biometric identification will enable the ‘speedy and accurate’ treatment of people experiencing a medical emergency, by quickly matching them to their medical records. The fact that this — along with the other touted benefits of the system — is dependent upon the police having access to comprehensive biometric databases (i.e. ones that contain as many people’s data as possible) is something conveniently omitted from the government’s statement.

While the new scanners will not record or store prints, this goes little way to addressing concerns that the technology effectively hands officers the power to carry out biometric identification of anyone they choose. As Netpol argued back in 2013:

“While there is a theoretical protection in that these measures can be used only when a person is suspected of a criminal offence, in practice this is not so reassuring. Offences such as obstruction and ‘anti-social behaviour’ are so broadly and vaguely defined they can be used to describe almost any set of circumstances, not just those that are actually criminal. Existing police powers to carry out stop and searches are already frequently abused to obtain an individual’s name and address. Mobile fingerprinting used alongside existing stop and search practices could provide a de facto power to carry out biometric identification of people without any need for ‘reasonable suspicion’.”

As in the case of stop & search, it seems highly likely that mobile fingerprinting will be disproportionately used against BME communities and the wider working class, especially in a moment when the police are clamouring for more power to harass young black people. Indeed, the fact that the new app allows officers to check prints against immigration databases suggests that those seen as potentially being “illegal” migrants (i.e. anyone who isn’t obviously White British) are particularly at risk of being targeted.

It is therefore crucial that people know their rights when it comes to mobile fingerprinting (what follows is adapted from Netpol’s own guide):

When can police take fingerprints with a mobile device?

If you are under arrest and you are taken to a police station, the police have the power to take your fingerprints (by force if necessary).

The police can take fingerprints away from a police station ONLY if they have reason to suspect you have committed an offence AND they have reason to doubt that you have provided your real name and address.

If the police have grounds to take fingerprints, they must first give you an opportunity to give your details. They can fingerprint you only if there are “reasonable grounds” to doubt you have given your real name and address.

If you have provided a document showing your name and address, they must tell you why this is not sufficient on its own to prove your identity.

If you refuse to give your fingerprints (and the police have “reasonable suspicion”), they have the power to take fingerprints without consent, or to arrest you for the offence you are suspected of, and take you to the police station.

What if I haven’t committed an offence?

To lawfully take your fingerprints the police must suspect that you have committed an offence.

They MUST tell you what offence you are reasonably suspected of having committed and why you are reasonably suspected of committing it. If the police will not or cannot do this, you SHOULD NOT provide your fingerprints (or your name and address).

If the police allege that you have committed an offence, MAKE SURE they explain what offence it is that has been committed and what reason they have for suspecting you. Being stopped and searched, DOES NOT by itself give the police powers to take your fingerprints OR your name and address.

Being detained to prevent a breach of the peace, or held in a protest kettle, DOES NOT by itself give the police powers to take your fingerprints OR your name and address.

If the police have suspicion that you are breaching bail conditions, they have the power to arrest you. A suspicion that you are breaching bail conditions DOES NOT give them the power to take your fingerprints on a mobile scanner, as this is NOT an offence.

What if I am suspected of anti-social behaviour?

If the police allege that you have engaged in anti-social behaviour, INSIST they tell you what they “reasonably believe” you have done that was likely to caused harassment, alarm and distress.

If the police cannot or will not tell you why they believe you were likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress, the police do NOT have powers to take your fingerprints and you SHOULD NOT give a name and address.

If the police DO you have reason to believe you have engaged in anti-social behaviour, they DO have the power to demand your name and address. The police WILL then have the power take your fingerprints IF you refuse to provide your name and address, OR they suspect you of providing a false name and address.

What happens if I give my fingerprints?

The device will scan your fingerprints and check them against the police database. They should return a result within two minutes. The scan taken by the mobile fingerprint device is NOT kept, and DOES NOT stay on the system.

If your prints are already on record, the police will be able to see your details. These will include your name, last known address, warning markers and whether or not you are wanted for any outstanding offences.

If the offence you are suspected of committing is a minor one, and you have given your prints, the police SHOULD consider alternatives to arrest, e.g. summons, fixed penalty notice or words of advice.

If your prints are not already on the database, this will mean that the police cannot verify your details. What the police do then is up to them — depending on the situation they may accept the details you have given as true, or they may arrest you for the offence you are suspected of committing.

If you are arrested your prints will be taken in the police station, and these will be retained on the system.

Carl Spender

This article first appeared in the Summer issue of Freedom Journal.

It’s Still “No Comment”

A brief statement on the importance of "no comment" interviews, based on the experiences of the Legal Defence & Monitoring Group. Found on Pastebin.

As new people become involved it periodically becomes necessary to repeat things that every anarchist and indeed every person should know about what to do if arrested. So once again we return to the issue of the right to silence and in particular what to do when interviewed in custody. We focus specifically on this due to lack of space and because in other circumstances you have the opportunity to take advice and research at your leisure. This piece would not be possible without the co-operation of many people who have shared their experiences and shown transcripts of interviews to the Legal Defence and Monitoring Group, to spare their blushes all names have been withheld.


Until the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 the fact that you didn’t answer questions in police interviews could not be drawn to the attention of the jury or magistrates when you were tried. Sections 34-39 of the Act modified the law to allow an “adverse inference” to be drawn if you under certain circumstances you rely on a defence that you could reasonably have mentioned when questioned. The law is complex as always but in almost all cases and any where you do not know the full legal position back to front yourself the best thing to do remains to answer “no comment” to all questions. Any good lawyer will be happy to advise you to do this which strengthens your position as you are doing it on “legal advice”. There are many other reasons that may be legitimate too, including as mentioned by the Lord Chief Justice in 1997 being …“suspicious of the police”. We sincerely hope you are. For more details the law can be read online at, the wikipedia article on right to silence is a good starting point and for an in depth analysis see “Silence and Guilt: an assessment of case law on the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994” by David Walchover.

..and Practice

It may seem blindingly obvious but the police are trained in interviewing techniques and very few of us are trained in how to handle interrogation. The starting point is that you are an amateur team playing away to a professional one and the best you can hope for is a nil-nil draw by playing an uncompromising defence. Second, remember your audience, not the people in the room but the Magistrates, Judge or Jury who will decide your case. The tone of your voice will be important in how you are perceived. Avoid sounding angry or worse bored or arrogant. Now to the common tricks that will be used to break down your “no comment” easiest to deal with are threats or inducements. Tick these off inwardly as a good sign, the cops have a weak case and they’re tactics will look bad in court. Then there is the “we’ve got the evidence, so and so’s confessed and shopped you, make it easy on yourself”, lies ‘cos if they had you bang to rights they would have charged you already as they are in fact obliged to under PACE.
Most dangerous is the verbal trickery. Intermixing uncontroversial questions with incriminating ones, “this is a copy of The Sun newspaper?”.. “Yes”..”That’s your picture on the front cover isn’t it?”…now the “no comment” sounds very weak. Hard followed by soft, “You were one of the organisers of J18 weren’t you?”…“No Comment”... “but you know who they were?”…“Well, the ones in London”. Even more sneaky are blatant lies you will want to refute “For the tape Ms A is nodding her head”. Most perilous because it comes first is the slippery slope offered before the interview starts. “Would you like a cup of water? Is the chair ok, we really should get something more comfortable, I keep telling them.” There’s nothing wrong in replying before they start the tape or even confirming your name for the tape when it’s started but


It’s better to look a bit of a prat (it can always be explained in court as nervousness) than getting into the habit of answering questions. “I’m just doing to ask some questions to check you understand the caution. Do you have to answer my questions?”…“No”… “what might the court think if you choose not to answer the questions”… “They might see that as suspicious”. The suspect went on to give a perfect “no comment” interview but it’s now a suspicious one. Lastly don’t be clever, the right answer is not “I‘m sure they will follow the directions laid out by Lord Bingham in the case of Argent”, just “no comment”. As for the comrade who said “I’m bored of all this “no comment” thing, I’ll just name a different type of fruit each time you ask a question” we prefer to draw a discrete veil. So to sum up. Below is everything you need to remember after reading this article. Everything else was just padding to fill up the page.

Answer “No Comment” to all questions in police interviews.

Below is everything you need to remember after reading this article. Everything else was just padding to fill up the page: Answer “No Comment” to all questions in police interviews.
Legal Defence & Monitoring Group

No comment: the defendant's guide to arrest

A detailed guide on your rights if you are arrested, with advice on what police are likely to do and say, and what you can do to protext yourself.

If you think you might one day run the risk of being arrested, you must find out what to do in that situation. If prison, fines, community service etc. don’t appeal to you by following what’s written in this article you can massively reduce the risk of all three. In the police station, the cops rely on people’s naivety.

Getting arrested is no joke. It’s a serious business. All convictions add up: e.g. if you’re done three times for shoplifting, you stand a good chance of getting sent down. If there’s a chance of you getting nicked, get your act together: know what to do in case you’re arrested. Unless you enjoy cells, courtrooms, prisons, you owe it to yourself to wise up.

When you have been arrested
You have to give the police your name and address. You will also be asked for your date of birth - you don’t have to give it, but it may delay your release as it is used to run a check on the police national computer. They also have the right to take your fingerprints, photo and non-intimate body samples (a saliva swab, to record your DNA).

These will be kept on file, even if you are not charged.

The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, removed the traditional ‘Right to Silence’. However, all this means is that the police/prosecution can point to your refusal to speak to them, when the case comes to court, and the court may take this as evidence of your guilt. The police cannot force you to speak or make a statement, whatever they may say to you in the station. Refusing to speak cannot be used to convict you by itself. We reckon the best policy if you want to get off is to remain silent. The best place to work out a good defence is afterwards, with your solicitor or witnesses, not under pressure in the hands of the cops. If your refusal to speak comes up in court, we think the best defence is to refuse to speak until your solicitor gets there then get them to agree to your position. You can then say you acted on legal advice.

If you are arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000, the police can keep you in custody for longer. They have already used this against protestors and others to intimidate them. Remember being arrested is not the same as being charged. Keeping silent is still the best thing to do in police custody.

Remember - All charges add up

Q: What happens when I get arrested?
When you are arrested, you will usually be handcuffed, put in a van and taken to a police station. You will be asked your name, address and date of birth. You should be told the reason for your arrest - remember what is said, it may be useful later. Your personal belongings will be taken from you. These are listed on the custody record and usually you will be asked to sign to say that the list is correct. You do not have to sign, but if you do you should sign immediately below the last line, so that the cops can’t add something incriminating to the list. You should also refuse to sign for something which isn’t yours, or which could be incriminating. You will also be asked if you want a copy of PACE (the Police and Criminal Evidence Act codes of practice) and to sign to say you have refused. We suggest you take a copy – it’s the only thing you’ll get to read and you might as well
get up on the rules the cops are supposed to follow. Your fingerprints, photo and saliva swab will be taken, then you will be placed in a cell until the police are ready to deal with you.

Do not panic!

Q. What if I am under 18?
There has to be an ‘appropriate adult’ present for the interview. The cops will always want this to be your mum or dad, but you might want to give the name of an older brother or sister or other relative or adult friend (though the cops may not accept a friend). If you don’t have anyone, they will get a social worker - this might cause you more problems afterwards.

Q: When can I contact a solicitor?
You should be able to ring a solicitor as soon as you’re arrested, once at the police station it is one of the first things you should do, for two reasons:
1. To have someone know where you are.
2. To show the cops you are not going to be a soft target - they may back off a bit.

It is advisable to avoid using the duty solicitor as they may be crap or hand in glove with the cops. It’s worth finding the number of a good solicitor in your area and memorising it. The police are wary of decent solicitors. Any good solicitor will provide free advice at the police station. Also, avoid telling your solicitor much about what happened. This can be sorted out later. For the time being, tell them you are refusing to speak. Your solicitor can come into the police station while the police interview you: you should refuse to be interviewed unless your solicitor is present.

: What is an interview?Q
An interview is the police questioning you about the offences they want to charge you with. The interview will take place in an interview room in the police station and should be taped.

An interview is only of benefit to the Police

Remember they want to prosecute you for whatever charge they can stick on you. An interview is a no-win situation. For your benefit, the only thing to be said in an interview is “No comment”.

Remember: They can’t legally force you to speak.

Beware of attempts to interview you in the cop van or cell etc. as all interviews are nowadays recorded. The cops may try to pretend you confessed before the taped interview. Again say “No comment”.

Q: Why do the police want me to answer questions?
If the police think they have enough evidence against you they will not need to interview you. For example, in most public order arrests they rely on witness statements from 1 or 2 cops or bystanders, you won’t even be interviewed. Also if they have arrested you and other people, they will try to get you to implicate the others. The police want to convict as many people as possible because:
1. It makes it look like they’re doing a good job at solving crime. The clear-up rate is very important to the cops; they have to be seen to be doing their job. The more crimes they get convictions for, the better it looks for them.
2. Police officers want promotion, to climb up the ladder of hierarchy. Coppers get promotion through the number of crimes they ‘solve’. No copper wants to be a bobby all their life.

A ‘solved crime’ is a conviction against somebody. You only have to look at such cases as the Birmingham 6 to understand how far the Police will go to get a conviction. Fitting people up to boost the ‘clear-up rate’, and at the same time removing people cops don’t like, is wide spread in all Police forces.

Q: So if the police want to interview me, it shows I could be in a good position?
Yes - they may not have enough evidence, and hope you’ll implicate yourself or other people.

Q: And the way to stay in that position is to refuse to be drawn into a conversation and answer “No comment” to any questions?

Q: But what if the evidence looks like they have got something on me? Wouldn’t it be best to explain away the circumstances I was arrested in, so they’ll let me go?
The only evidence that matters is the evidence presented in court to the Magistrate or jury. The only place to explain everything is in court; if they’ve decided to keep you in, no amount of explaining will get you out. If the police have enough evidence, anything you say can only add to this evidence against you. When the cops interview someone, they do all they can to confuse and intimidate you. The questions may not be related to the crime. Their aim is to soften you up, get you chatting. Don’t answer a few small talk questions and then clam up when they ask you a question about the crime. It looks worse in court.

To prosecute you, the police must present their evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service. A copy of the evidence is sent to your solicitor. The evidence usually rests on very small points: this is why it’s important not to give anything away in custody. They may say your refusal to speak will be used against you in court, but the best place to work out what you want to say is later with your solicitor. It they don’t have enough evidence the case will be thrown out or never even get to court. This is why they want you to speak. They need all the evidence they can get. One word could cause you a lot of trouble.

Q: So I’ve got to keep my mouth shut. What tricks can I expect the police to pull in order to make me talk?
The police try to get people to talk in many devious ways. The following shows some pretty common examples, but remember they may try some other line on you.

These are the things that often catch people out. Don't get caught out.

1. “Come on now, we know it’s you, your mate’s in the next cell and he’s told us the whole story.”
If they’ve got the story, why do they need your confession? Playing co-accused off against each other is a common trick, as you’ve no way of checking what other people are saying. If you are up to something dodgy with other people, work out a story and stick to it. Don’t believe it if they say your co-accused has confessed.

2. “We know it’s not you, but we know you know who’s done it. Come on Jane, don’t be silly, tell us who did it”
The cops will use your first name to try and seem as though they’re your friends. If you are young they will act in a fatherly/motherly way, etc.

3. “As soon as we find out what happened you can go”
Fat chance!

4. “Look you little bastard, don’t fuck us about. We’ve dealt with some characters; a little runt like you is nothing to us. We know you did it you little shit and you’re going to tell us.”
They’re trying to get at you.

5. “What’s a nice kid like you doing messed up in a thing like this?”
They’re still trying to get at you.

6. We’ll keep you in ‘til you tell us”
They have to put you before the magistrate or release you within 36 hours (or 7 days if arrested under the Terrorism Act). Only a magistrate can order you to be held without charge for any longer.

7. “There is no right to silence anymore. If you don’t answer questions the judge will know you’re guilty.”
Refusing to speak cannot be used to convict you by itself. If they had enough evidence they wouldn’t be interviewing you.

8. “You’ll be charged with something far more serious if you don’t start answering our questions, sonny. You’re for the high jump. You’re not going to see the light of day for a long time. Start answering our questions ‘cos we’re getting sick of you.”
Mental intimidation. They’re unlikely to charge you with something serious that won’t stick in court. Don’t panic.

9.“You’ve been nicked under the Terrorism Act, so you’ve got no rights.”
More mental intimidation and all the more reason to say “No comment”.

10. “My niece is a bit of a rebel.”
Yeah right.

11. “If someone’s granny gets mugged tonight it’ll be your fault. Stop wasting our time by not talking.”
They’re trying to make you feel guilty. Don’t fall for it, you didn’t ask to be arrested.

12. Mr Nice: “Hiya, what’s it all about then? Sergeant Smith says you’re in a bit of trouble. He’s a bit wound up with you. You tell me what happened and Smith won’t bother you. He’s not the best of our officers, he loses his rag every now and again. So what happened?”
Mr Nice is as devious as Mr Nasty is. He or she will offer you a cuppa, cigarettes, a blanket. It’s the softly-softly approach. It’s bollocks. “No comment”.

13. "We’ve been here for half an hour now and you’ve not said a fucking word.... Look you little cunt some of the CID boys will be down in a minute. They’ll have you talking in no time. Talk now or I’ll bring them down.”
Keep at it, they’re getting desperate. They’re about to give up. You’ve a lot to lose by speaking.

14. “Your girlfriend’s outside. Do you want us to arrest her? We’ll soon have her gear off for a strip search. I bet she’ll tell us. You’re making all this happen by being such a prick. Now talk.”
They pick on your weak spots, family, friends, etc. Cops do sometimes victimise prisoners’ families, but mostly they are bluffing.

15. “You’re a fuckin’ loony, you! Who’d want you for a mother, you daft bitch? Start talking or your kids are going into care.”
Give your solicitor details of a friend or relative who can look after your kids. The cops don’t have the power to take them into care.

16. “Look, we’ve tried to contact your solicitor, but we can’t get hold of them. It’s going to drag on for ages this way. Why don’t we get this over with so you can go home.”
Never accept an interview without your solicitor present, a bit more time now may save years later! Don’t make a statement even if your solicitor advises you to - a good one won’t.

17. “You’re obviously no dummy. I’ll tell you what we’ll do a deal. You admit to one of the charges, and we’ll drop the other two. We’ll recommend to the judge that you get a non-custodial sentence, because you’ve co-operated. How does that sound?”
They’re trying to get you to do a deal. There are no deals to be made with the police. Much as they’d like to, the police don’t control the sentence you get.

18. “We’ve been round to the address you gave us and the people there say they don’t know you. We’ve checked on the Benefits Agency computer and there’s no sign of you. Now come on, tell us who you are. Tell us who you are or you’ve had it.”
If you’re planning to give an address make sure everyone there knows the name you are using and that they are reliable. The cops usually check that you live somewhere by going round.

19. “Wasting police time is a serious offence.”
You can’t be charged for wasting police time for not answering questions.

The cops may rough you up, or use violence to get a confession (true or false) out of you. There are many examples of people being fitted up and physically assaulted until they admitted to things they hadn’t done. It’s your decision to speak rather than face serious injury. Just remember, what you say could get you and others sent down for a very long time. However, don’t rely on retracting a confession in court - it’s hard to back down once you’ve said something.

In the police station the cops rely on people’s naivety. If you are aware of the tricks they play, the chances are they’ll give up on you. In these examples we have tried to show how they’ll needle you to into speaking. That’s why you have to know what to do when you’re arrested. The hassle in the cop shop can be bad, but if you are on the ball, you can get off. You have to be prepared.

We've had a lot of experience of the Police and we simply say:
Having said nothing in the police station, you can then look at the evidence and work out your side of the story.

This is how you will get off
1. Keep calm and cool when arrested (remember you are playing with the experts now, on their home ground).
2. Don’t get drawn into conversations with the police at any time.
3. Get a solicitor.
4. Never make a statement.
5. If they rough you up, see a doctor immediately after being released. Get a written report of all bruising and marking. Take photos of all injuries. Remember the cops’ names and numbers if possible.

Remember: An interview is a no win situation. You are not obliged to speak. If the police want to interview you, it shows you’re in a good position… And the only way to stay in that position is to refuse to be drawn into any conversation and answer “No comment” to any questions.

Q: What can I do if one of my friends or family has been arrested?
If someone you know is arrested, there's a lot you can do to help him or her from outside.

1. If you know what name they are using ring the police station (however if you're not sure don't give their real name away). Ask whether they are being held there and on what charges. However, remember that the cops may not tell you the truth.

2. Remove anything from the arrested person’s house that the police may find interesting: letters, address books, false ID etc. in case the police raid the place.

3. Take food, cigarettes etc. into the police station for your arrested friend. But don’t go in to enquire at the police station to ask about a prisoner if you run the risk of arrest yourself. You’ll only get arrested. Don't go alone. The police have been known to lay off a prisoner if they have visible support from outside. It’s solidarity that keeps prisoners in good spirits.

Notes on this text
This is the third edition of No Comment. It has been updated and reprinted by former members of the Anarchist Black Cross (ABC) in conjunction with the Legal Defence & Monitoring Group (LDMG).

The printed version was funded by the proceeds of a damages award from the Metropolitan Police, who were sued for false arrest and imprisonment and breach of human rights. We are sure that they will be pleased to know that their funds are being invested in a public information campaign as vital and deserving as this.

Copies can be obtained free by sending a 2nd class stamped SAE to No Comment c/o BM Automatic, London WC1N 3XX or you can download copies from

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NoComment in welsh DIM SYLW.pdf264.46 KB

Police Station Support Guide

Being arrested and held in police custody is unpleasant. People often appreciate being met by a friendly face when they are released. This is a guide to doing effective police station support. This guide is an updated version of the Activist’s Legal Project guide to arrestee support, created collectively by GBC Resources, Activist Court Aid Brigade (ACAB) and Queercare.

The information you record outside the police station will help Activist Court Aid Brigade (ACAB) support the arrestee, and can make the difference between a conviction and an acquittal.

This guide contains information about how to prepare for police station support; what to do at the police station; tips on liaising with lawyers and appropriate adults; what information to collect for follow-up support and a guide to some basic First Aid and acute mental health support.

You don’t need to go to the police station right away after someone’s been arrested – it usually takes at least an hour for them to be taken to the station and be booked in, before being held, interviewed and released. It’s a good idea to make sure you’re ready and have everything, including people who can take over support during the night or later on, before heading to a station.

If you’re not sure where an arrestee has been taken, ask a Legal Observer if they know and phone the Protest Legal Support Helpline / Legal Back Office for the action, as they may have more information.

This guide is an updated version of the Activist’s Legal Project guide to arrestee support, created collectively by GBC Resources, Activist Court Aid Brigade (ACAB) and Queercare.

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post-arrest-support-leaflet.pdf87.11 KB

1. Your Role

Your presence outside the police station can have a dramatic impact on how the arrestee reflects upon their arrest and is an important action of solidarity to support protest as a whole.

Simply being outside a police station to meet someone released from custody is valuable and appreciated.

Your role as police station support is:

- To greet and emotionally support arrestees as they leave the police station
- To gather contact details, and where possible information about the arrest and release
- To offer something to eat and drink, and to help with transport and somewhere to stay
- To liaise with the Legal Back Office / Protest Legal Support Line, the solicitor(s), any appropriate adults and the staff of the police station to ensure that all those arrested receive the right support
- To pass on information about what to do next and what practical, legal and emotional support is available

Doing station support on your own is not a good idea – always try to work with other people unless unavoidable. See if you can work in buddies, so you’re always with someone else.

- Information on what support we offer can be found in the I’ve been Arrested! guide.

2. Why You Might End up Doing Police Station Support

You might have planned in advance to be doing station support for arrestees from a particular action or it may have come as a surprise.

Setting up a Station Support Group in Advance

If you’re planning an action it’s a good idea to plan station support in advance, especially if you think arrests are likely (and remember that police behaviour is often unpredictable so it’s best to be prepared just in case!)

- Gather together a group of people who are willing to do station support. This may be people who will be at the protest or other people sympathetic to the cause. If someone has access to a car this is even better, as arrestees could be taken to a police station that’s far away where they need to get back to.
- Make sure everyone has read this guide and understands their role.
- Sort out a rota with shifts and buddies. How formal or informal this will be depends on the size and nature of the protest and supporters. Most importantly, ensure there are at least two people available at all times, and a few people who can cover shifts overnight and into the early hours of the morning.
- If you can, try to build up a few station support kits containing the items set out below. Aim to have one kit per police station.
- Set up a form of communication for the station support crew. A good way of doing this is through a group chat on a secure messaging app such as Signal. If applicable, the people doing Back Office may wish to join this chat to make communication easier. Some groups have a designated person coordinating station support; others coordinate station support through the Back Office; and others coordinate themselves through a group chat or via other means. Find out what works best for your group.
- Have someone on the ground who’s in communication with the Legal Back Office / Protest Legal Support Line and with station support crews throughout the action and after, reporting any arrests to the people who are planning to head out to support.
- A few days after the action and the station support, you may find it appropriate to have a debrief or to call each other to check how you’re all doing. Support is valuable and appreciated, but can also be draining and invisiblised work.

If You Witness an Arrest and Want to Support

- Try to find out where the arrestee is being taken by asking Legal Observers, or, if there are none around, the arresting police officers. If they don’t know or don’t tell you, call the Legal Back Office / Protest Legal Support Line (07946 541 511) to say that you want to be kept updated.
- You don’t need to go to the police station as soon as you see an arrest – it usually takes a while for arrestees to be taken to the station and booked in. Use this time to gather some other people to support with you, especially if there’s not a station support group set up already, and as many things from the below list as you can.
- Share this guide with your fellow supporters.

If You Receive a Custody Call and Want to Support

You may receive a custody call from a friend or family member who’s been arrested. In the call, make sure to find out what station they’re at, and advise them to use a trusted protest solicitor.

- Inform the Legal Back Office / Protest Legal Support Line of the name/alias of the arrestee, what station they’re at, and any other information you have about their arrest. Let them know that you’re heading to the police station.
- See if you can get some other people to do support with you, and take this guide, some food, and as many of the other items listed below as you can along with you.

3. What to Take With You

It is usual for arrestees to have their belongings taken away by the police – phones, wallets, and sometimes clothes.

See if you can take with you:

- This guide
- A mobile phone and charger and lots of credit
- Food and drink – for yourself and for the arrestees once they are released
- Try to ensure that this meets dietary requirements of arrestees (vegan, halal, kosher, allergen-free etc.) and is high-energy
- Police Station Release Forms (one for every person who’s been arrested)
- Arrestee Information leaflets (one for every person who’s been arrested)
- Some money to pay for taxi fares, food, hot drinks, and possibly accommodation for released arrestees
- Pens/pencils and a notebook – you may want to make extra notes
- Plain travel cards (if applicable) for arrestees to travel after release
- Warm clothing, foil blankets and raincoats – you could be hanging around late at night
- A pen torch in case it gets dark
- A few bustcards
- Basic first aid and health supplies, including [url=]Queercare RAISED cards[/url] (see Appendix for suggested First Aid kit list).
- Phone numbers for:
- The Legal Back Office for the action the arrestees were arrested it (if applicable), or otherwise, the Protest Legal Support Helpline: 07946 541 511
- The solicitors you know or think the arrestees will use
- Any friends or family members who want to be kept in the loop
- The custody desk for the police station you are at
- A few local taxi numbers
- Safer spaces, local B&Bs or other local accommodation wherever possible
- Information about local transport and accomodation
- Entertainment, such as a book and playing cards
- Patience, empathy and listening skills

Please don’t bring:

- Anything illegal (weapons, drugs etc.) – there is a small chance you could be stopped & searched so don’t incrimimate yourself
- Enemies – sitting outside a police station with someone you strongly dislike is not conducive to a supportive atmosphere!
- Attitude – being seen as confrontational or rude by the cops could condemn arrestees to longer in custody

You don’t need to go to the police station right away after someone’s been arrested – it usually takes a few hours for them to be taken to the station and be booked in, before being held, interviewed and released. It’s a good idea to make sure you’re ready and have everything, including people who can take over support during the night or later on, before heading to a station.

If you’re not sure where an arrestee has been taken, ask a Legal Observer if they know and phone the Protest Legal Support Helpline / Legal Back Office, as they may have more information.

4. What We Need to Support You

On a large action, there may be a Legal Back Office using its own number, which often coordinates station support. Otherwise, the Protest Legal Support Helpline often has information on arrestees and can offer valuable support & advice

If you are unsure whether there is a Back Office, or who they are, give the Protest Legal Support Line a ring on 07946 541 511.

Please check in with the Back Office / Protest Legal Support Line when you arrive at the police station, to give:

- The name and telephone number you are using
- Your location and how long you can stay for
- Details of any interactions that you’ve already had with the police station front desk or solicitors
- Whether you have all the information you need or if there is anything more that you need
- Information on any other local supporters who might be able to help out with accommodation, transport, food, etc.

Please also phone:

- When someone is released
- To check out when you are leaving the police station
- If you have any queries

In general, please don’t phone if it’s after midnight – in this case check in the following day.
If you have any significant concerns or worries then please do not hesitate to call at any time.

5. What to do at the Police Station

You may feel perfectly able to walk into the police station and open a dialogue with the desk staff. Desk staff are human beings and will hopefully respond to you. If not, or if the station is closed, then you’ll have to hang around outside and rely on the solicitor to keep you informed.

Be nice and the desk staff and police might be nice back – but do be prepared – sometimes it can be very difficult to get any information or any cooperation at all from the front desk. The police might even lie to you. Be tenacious but not pushy – the cops are likely to get pissed off at very frequent requests for information. Be confrontational and you may condemn your friends to several hours more detention (yes it does happen!) or even face arrest yourself.

If the police do cooperate, try to find out and make a note of anything you don’t already know:

- How many people are they holding?
- Who they are holding?
- Are they OK?
- Are they being charged?
- What they are charged with?
- Any indication of a release time?
- Some arrestees will choose not to give their name to police officers, so don’t ask about individual people in custody unless you are sure of what name they are using. If you want to get information about a specific person, you can give a description such as, ‘Is the young person with black hair and a white shirt who was arrested at the climate protest today OK?’

You can try to get ‘treats’ (eg. chocolate), newspapers, books or dry clothes to arrestees, but this is up to the police station staff. Be nice and don’t show your annoyance if they refuse. If you know the arrestee personally, you might want to use this opportunity to make sure the police know about people’s dietary and medical needs.

Ask the police to make sure that they release people into your care and not out of a side exit – but don’t be shocked if they say they’ll do that and then do the opposite. If you have enough people, see if you can have supporters monitoring different exits, or take regular trips to check side doors.

If the police station is closed, you may be able to reach the custody desk using a phone or intercom outside. However, this doesn’t always work and the police may be uncooperative. In this situation, you’ll have to wait outside and rely on the Protest Legal Support Line, solicitors and appropriate adults for updates.

Be aware of your own boundaries and wellbeing and that of your buddy. See if you can work in shifts with other people, and take it in turns to have breaks, such as going for a walk.

6. Liaising with the Solicitor(s)

The arrestee should have been able to call their chosen solicitor from inside the police station.

The Back Office may also have called the solicitors to let them know about the arrests and they may have received calls from the police on behalf of arrestees.

Introduce yourself and your role to solicitors and ask to be kept informed. Suggest that they pop out and chat to you once in a while so that fellow activists and legal support know what’s happening. It’s all too easy for them to swan into the station and be in there for hours with police station support outside none the wiser (and in some cases not even sure that they have arrived!)

7. Liaising with Appropriate Adults

If an arrestee is under 18 or seen as a ‘vulnerable adult’ by the cops (PACE Code C), they or the police will usually have called an appropriate adult just after the arrest or from inside the station. The appropriate adult legally needs to be present at any interviews and the arrestee should be released into their care.

If the arrestee is under 18, their appropriate adult will often be their parent or guardian. They may be another over-18, such as a friend, other family member, or employee of the local Youth Offending Team (YOT). The cops usually want the appropriate adult to be a legal guardian or YOT employee, so whilst other people aged over 18 are technically allowed to take this role the police may not allow it.

Some local authorities or local voluntary groups have appropriate adult schemes.

Check if the Back Office / Protest Legal Support Line has contact details for any appropriate adults and if they have any updates on, for example, when they are going to arrive. This can be useful information to relay to the desk staff to pass on to the arrestee.

Some appropriate adults are experienced and understand their role well, whilst others may be confused, unsure and/or upset. Try to create good communication with appropriate adults if you can. As well as offering them food and conversation, you can tell them about your role and the 5 Key Messages, especially No Comment, No Duty Solicitor and No Caution. Let them know the importance of calling a good solicitor, who will provide advice for free at the police station, and recommend a solicitor from the Netpol Lawyers List for them to use. If the arrestee is 16 or under, let the appropriate adult know that they can refuse to let the young person’s photograph and fingerprints be taken (more information on this here).

Give appropriate adults a bustcard and an Arrestee Information Leaflet, and encourage them to call the Protest Legal Support Line if they have any questions.

8. Meeting Arrestees on their Release

For some people, police custody may have been fine, for others it might have been traumatic. You need to deal with whatever situation arises and provide appropriate support.

To many people, being arrested is a really big deal. They might be very excited or upset and want to talk about it. Bring your listening skills with you, and some nourishment!

Remember the the 7Fs for release from a police station:

- Food and drink, being conscious of dietary needs
- Friendly and empathetic to the needs and emotions of the arrestee
- First aid and mental health support
- Fill out the Police Station Release form with as much information as they are happy to give – preferably at least contact details so that the Legal Support Team can offer ongoing support
- Future of the case – give them an Arrestee Information Leaflet and outline legal, practical and emotional support available
- Finish up by ensuring that the arrestee has money for transport and knows where they are going to stay
- Phone the Back Office / Support Line to let them know who has been released

See Appendix for information on First Aid and mental health support.

9. Collecting Information for Ongoing Support

Once the arrestee has taken a moment to enjoy their freedom, and perhaps over a cup of tea, it’s important to ask them for some information.

Use the Police Station Release Form to record information. Contact details are most important, so that ACAB and/or the Legal Support Team of the group organising the protest can follow up to offer further support, and make sure arrestees have good legal support if needed. ACAB not only assist defendants with their defence, but also offer advice on how to sue the police.

Arrestees should have a release form given to them by the police – this will have details on it to help answer questions about the conditions of their release.

If someone is (understandably) wary about giving you their details, ask them to seriously consider getting in touch later on the Protest Support Helpline (07946 541 511) and to check out this website.

Encourage people to write up a statement as to what happened at the time of their arrest, while it is still fresh in their mind, and to keep it safe.

Check they have a solicitor – ask who it is and encourage them to contact one from the Netpol Lawyers List if they don’t have one or if they took the duty solicitor.

If they don’t want ongoing support, ask whether they are happy to give information about their arrest even if not giving their contact details or future court/bail dates – this will help us to understand police/CPS tactics and know who has been arrested and released.

It is also useful to make a brief note of their appearance: in many cases an arrest is called in with a description of the person but not their name. Your description might help to tie together the reported arrest with the arrestee themselves.

If it’s before midnight, please phone the release in to the Protest Legal Support Line / relevant Back Office.

In some cases you might like to install the arrestee into a corner of a nearby warm cafe while you wait for others to be released or while you arrange for them to get a lift home.

10. Once Everyone is Released or When You're Leaving

Please check out with the Protest Legal Support Line / Back Office when you’re leaving if it’s before midnight, to check who is still in custody, if anyone. If you’re switching shifts with more station support people, make sure to give them all the information you’ve got so far.

Sooner or later all arrestees are likely to be out of police custody. If arrests have taken place in the afternoon or evening this might be the following day (remember that people can be held for up to 24 hours without any additional authorisation).

Some arrestees might be held for longer ‘on remand’, in which case they will be held and put in front of a judge the morning of the next weekday.

Check with the Protest Legal Support Helpline / relevant Back Office or Police Station Support Coordinator that your figures match – ie. the number of people arrested equals the number released and you haven’t forgotten anyone! If you’re still up for it, ask if there are other locations that need police station support.

Please return your completed forms with any notes to ACAB as soon as possible – scan completed forms and email to, or type up the information into an email. Please ensure you send information from a secure email address (such as Protonmail or Riseup).

Make sure to check in with your fellow police station supporters after you’re done, such as by having a debrief a few days later or texting each other more informally. Police station support is essential and appreciated but it can also be draining, physically and emotionally difficult and work that often seems invisible within movements. We are able to do better support for everyone when we support those who are doing support!

You’ve been awesome. Thank you.

Any Questions? Ring the Protest Legal Support helpline – 07946 541511

11. Appendix 1: First Aid Kit

Suggested First Aid Kit

This is a suggested First Aid kit list based on what we have found most useful for dealing with the types of injuries people commonly have after arrest and being held in custody. Don’t worry if you don’t have everything on this list – just take whatever you can. If you want to buy supplies in advance, Medisave often has First Aid kit at good prices.

- Disposable gloves
- Antibacterial hand sanitiser
- Hot and cold packs
- Wet wipes
- Blue plasters
- Coban
- Medical tape
- Ambulance dressing
- Aftersun
- Sugary sweets or glucose tablets
- Disposable razors
- Menstrual products
- RAISED cards

If you are building a First Aid kit for protest or station support and would like access to supplies and training, you can get in touch with Queercare at

12. Appendix 2: Mental Health Support

Everyone deals with the experience of arrest and being held in custody in different ways. Some people might have found it okay, and others may have found it deeply traumatic. You can never assume what arrest may have been like for someone.

If you’ve been arrested yourself in the past, it’s often not that helpful to talk about your arrest, as other people may have had a totally different experience. Instead of entering a situation with preconceived ideas about how another person might feel, try to be open-minded, non-judgemental and ready to listen.

A helpful acronym to remember for acute mental health support is RAISED.

- Risk: Consider and balance the risks to yourself, the arrestee and others associated with helping the arrestee and decide whether and how much to intervene.
- Affect: Consider the overriding emotion of the crisis (depression/suicidality, panic, perceiving a different reality etc.) and adjust accordingly.
- If the person is panicking, reassure them of the safety and support systems they have and offer assistance to work through or minimise stressors if you can. Don’t minimise the stressors, but assure the person that they’re up to the task.
- If they’re depressed or suicidal, talk about future plans, reassure them that problems can be dealt with, and act as if it’s assumed that they’ll be around to take part in future activities. If you know the arrestee, it can be helpful to plan a low-key meet-up the day after or a few days after the arrest.
- If they’re perceiving a different reality to you, don’t contradict their perception unless they ask you to or told you to do so in advance. Ask questions to help you understand what they’re perceiving, such as ‘That sounds pretty overwhelming, do you think you’d be able to explain how that’s making you feel?’
- If they’re nonverbal, provide time and space, reduce possible stressors (including environment) and offer paper or a digital notebook to pass messages.
- If they appear to be ‘splitting’ or having sudden emotional swings, respect that the person’s emotions are real in the current moment and not ‘fake feelings’ or equivalent. However, try not to internalise behaviour or language about yourself or others if it is different to how the person usually behaves. Use language to describe their feelings, such as ‘It looks like you’re feeling really frustrated right now.’
- In and out: Try to find out when the person last took in food, water, medication and other substances and see if you can provide or limit any of the above. Often arrestees haven’t had adequate food, which can exacerbate panic and feelings of disorientation.
- Stressors: Consider what factors in the person’s life are making things worse, and consider if these can (plan to be) removed or dealt with.
- Environment: Consider environmental factors such as noise, temperature, dangers, triggers and people and see if these can (plan to) be removed. This often means supporting arrestees to go somewhere safer, away from the police station, and potentially travelling with them to get there.
- Diagnosis: Last and least importantly, consider any (informal or otherwise) diagnoses that arrestees may have, and adjust accordingly.

Some people might want to talk about the experience of arrest they’ve just had, and some might not at all – don’t pressure people either way. When listening to someone share how they’re feeling or what’s happened to them you may like to remember the acronym PROBLEMS for active listening:

- Pause: Make sure to leave space for the person to talk and don’t be afraid of silence.
- Rephrase: Paraphrasing something the person has said back in your own words to check an/or illustrate that you understand.
- Open-ended questions: Ask questions starting with words like ‘What’ or ‘How’ rather than those which have yes or no answers.
- Body language: Don’t impose same norms on everyone but mirror some aspects of the person’s body language if you can, such as eye contact/
- Label emotions: Name emotions, such as ‘it seems like you’re feeling really frustrated about this’ or ‘that sounds like it felt really scary’ as a way to validate and show you’re listening even if you don’t agree or can’t relate at all to the actual content of what they’re saying.
- Encouragers: Brief sounds or gestures like ‘uh-huh, ‘I see’, nodding etc show that you’re paying attention without interrupting.
- Mirror : This is the cliched therapist thing of repeating back a few words from someone’s sentence. Don’t overdo this but it can be helpful if you’re stuck about what to say – mirroring and leaving a pause can be good way to encourage someone to expand.
- Summarise – after you’ve been speaking to them, summarise to check that you’ve understood what’s happening with the person and how they feel about it.

13. Appendix 3: Basic First Aid

Basic First Aid

Major injuries will usually be handled by police medics and hospitals, but it’s good to know some basic First Aid for minor injuries and damage.

Before doing any First Aid, make sure to put on gloves to protect yourself from germs. Encourage arrestees who have been injured during arrest or in custody to make a record of the injury (eg. by taking pictures of the injuries and visiting a GP or walk-in clinic), as they may want to use this as evidence if they later bring a civil claim or complaint against the police.

- Sprains and bruises: Remember the acronym RICERest the injured area as much as possible, apply Ice (wrap a cold pack in some cloth and hold it against the spain/bruise), apply Compression (such as with coban) and Elevate the injured area.
- Loss of feeling in thumbs: Handcuffs commonly cause minor nerve damage, which can mean that arrestees feel a loss of sensation around their thumb, wrist and/or back of the hand and fingers. Reassure arrestees that this is common and usually clears up on its own, but encourage them to visit a GP or a walk-in clinic if it’s still a problem after a few days.
- Grazes: First stop any bleeding by applying pressure to the wound using a clean and absorbent material. Then wash the wound using water (not antiseptic) and apply a sterile adhesive dressing, such as a plaster.
- Someone is cold: Warm them up slowly, especially if they got cold over a long or unknown period of time. If you warm someone up too fast it causes blood to rush to the extremities and can cause unconsciousness. Try to make sure they’re wearing dry, warm clothes and encourage them to wrap themselves in a foil blanket. Place heat packs under their armpits and help them to move to somewhere warm and dry, if possible. Please don’t give people who are very cold hot drinks – this will cause blood to rush to the stomach and can cause loss of consciousness.
- Someone is hot: Offer them sips of water and move to a cool, shady area. Place cold packs under their armpits. If someone is hot and stops sweating; has a throbbing headache; feels sick and is losing consciousness, these are signs of heatstroke – call an ambulance.
- Someone is losing consciousness: If someone is rapidly moving from Disoriented to Irritable to Combative (and eventually to Comatose – DICC), this is a sign that they’re losing consciousness – call an ambulance.

Stop and search guide to your rights

A page of information about police stop and search powers in the UK and your rights when you are stopped and searched.

What is a ‘Stop and Search’?
Police officers can stop and talk to you at any time. But they should only search you if they suspect you are carrying:
- Drugs
- Weapons
- Stolen property
- Tools which could be used to commit a crime

Why me?
If you are stopped or searched it doesn’t mean you have done something wrong. But a police officer must have a good reason for stopping you and should tell you what this is. You should not be stopped or searched just because of your age, race or the way you dress.

Where can I be stopped and searched?
- In a public place
- Anywhere – if the police believe you have committed a serious crime

If the police think there may be serious violence then they can search everyone in an area for weapons – e.g. near a football ground – without a good reason to search each person.

A police officer can stop a vehicle at any time and ask to see the driver’s licence and other documents. If they have good reason to think your car contains stolen goods, drugs or weapons, they could search it – even if you are not there. But the police must leave a notice saying what they have done. If the search causes damage, you can ask for compensation but only if they didn’t find anything to connect you to a crime.

How will they search me?
Before searching you, the police officer must normally tell you:
- Their name
- The station they work at
- Why they are searching you
- What they are looking for

If the officer is not in uniform, they must show you their identity card.

If you are in a public place, you only have to take off:
- Your coat or jacket
- Your gloves

The police can only ask you to take off more than this or anything you wear for religious reasons, such as a face scarf, if they take you somewhere private e.g. a police station or the back of a police van. This does not mean you are being arrested. In this case, the officer who searches you must be of the same sex as you.

What happens next?
The police officer must write down:
-Your name or a description of you
- Why they searched you
- When and where they searched you
- What they were looking for and anything they found
- The name and number of the officer who searched you
- Your ethnic background

The police do not have to write this down if they just stop you and don’t search you. The police will ask for your name, address and date of birth. You do not have to give any of this information if you don’t want to, unless the police tell you they are reporting you for an offence. If this is the case you could be arrested if you don’t tell them.

The police will write down your ethnic group. They may ask you to say what this is. This is just to check they are not stopping and searching people just because of their race or ethnic background.

If you don’t get a copy of what they wrote down then and there, you can get a copy from the police station within 12 months.

How can I complain?
The police should treat you fairly and with respect. If you are unhappy with how you were treated, you can complain. It will help if you keep a copy of the details that the police wrote down when they searched you. You can get advice from, or complain to:
- A Citizen’s Advice Bureau
- The Commission for Racial Equality
- A solicitor

Support for People going to Court

A short guide about how to support people going to court. This guide was published by the Green and Black Cross.

If someone has been arrested they may be released on police bail or they may have been charged with an offence and have to appear at a court.

How do you know if you’ve been charged? You will have been given a document giving a date to appear at court, the details of the court and details of which offence you’ve been charged with.

If you are released on police bail you may either be charged at a later date, or be told there is no further action (NFA) to be taken against you, which is the end of the matter.

If you have been charged with an offence this means that you are to go on trial for the offence – but it still may not come to this….

It is invaluable to have support during the whole court process, this brief guide will explain what happens when one goes to court to enable you to support any one you know who has been charged, and also to understand the process if you yourself have been charged. If you would like a much more detailed description you could read ‘How to Defend Yourself in Court’.

The Activist Court Aid Brigade (ACAB) have volunteers who support people who are going to court. If you or a friend have been called to court after attending an action, please send an email to ACAB who will offer you support: Find out more about court monitoring.

1. What to do if you have been charged

If you are charged:

- Do you have a solicitor?

NO: get in touch with a good solicitor as soon as you can

YES: get in touch with your solicitor as soon as you can and give them the details

- Also get in touch with GBC or ACAB and let us know the details, we can give you help, advice and go along to the court with you.

Start to talk to people who may have witnessed the incident when you were arrested, and start to gather evidence, such as video links.

It is important to go along to the court on the date set.

2. Going to court as a supporter

The courts are public places, trials and hearings are held in public, as an important part of the legal system.

Any one can go into the court building. Court buildings usually have:

- Several court rooms where hearings are actually heard
- Waiting areas outside the court rooms
- Side rooms off the waiting area that can be used for meetings, such as with a solicitor

Court rooms have a public gallery where any member of the public can sit and watch a trial or hearing (although there may occasionally be exceptions to trials being public). Go through the main door into the court room. If you cannot see where the public gallery is ask someone in the court, allthough if you look lost a clerk will usually come over to help you. Sometimes the gallery is a glassed off room, sometimes a row of seats in the court room itself.

It can be a good idea to visit the court building before the first hearing, go into a court room and watch what’s going on, just to get the look and feel of the environment.

Remember to switch off your phone, or switch it to silent, and generally be quiet, when in the public gallery.

You’ll be able to see the defendant from the gallery, who has to go into the ‘dock’, often a glassed off room.

When you first go into the court building you will have an airport style search and your belongings will be x-rayed. Any sprays (e.g. perfume) or sharp instrument, such as bike tools, will be taken from you and may be re-claimed when you leave the building. Knives are a problem, so best left at home.

In the entrance area there will be a list of who is to be heard where. Look for the defendants surname under the list for each court room.

Court staff can be friendly and willing to help you find your way around.

3. What to do in court

There are many ways to support someone going through the court process, here are some suggestions, but the list is not definitive!

If you arrive at court and the person you are supporting doesn’t have a solicitor yet, phone one immediately who should send someone to court, and tell the court clerk that you are waiting for a solicitor – do not use a duty solicitor if offered. Look at our guide to finding a solicitor.

When you are in the public gallery take notes of everything you hear, e.g. what the magistrate or solicitors say. You are usually allowed to use a lap top, and are always allowed to make written notes. It is forbidden to make sound recordings or make videos or take photos. You can share these later with the prerson you are supporting, or with LDMG/GBC.

A good solicitor will be happy to explain exactly what is going on, you can encourage your friend to ask them questions before or after the hearing.

If there are any parts of the process that aren’t understood, or your friend would like advice about what to do, then get in touch with GBC or LDMG. It may be possible to get immediate help/explanations by phoning the protest support line.

Have some water and snacks. You and your friend may consume these in the waiting areas. In the court room one is only allowed water. Your friend can ask for water in the court room, but sometimes it’s better to have a bottle.

Be prepared for lots of waiting around. The courts sit in two sessions, one starting at 10am, the other after lunch at 2pm. All the cases for the morning or afternoon are listed for the same time. Usually your case will be listed for the morning session, but you may not be heard until mid morning, just before lunch (which is 1pm – 2pm) or even in the afternoon. The courts close at 4pm, but once a case has started may well go on until after 5pm.

However, don’t be tempted to arrive late, the magistrates get very vexed if you aren’t there when they want to hear your case…

4. A word about courts and judges

There are two kinds of court:

Magistrates courts: the first court one goes to is a magistrates court. They either have a tribunal of 3 magistrates, or a single person sitting on their own. When it’s a tribunal these are lay people, i.e. not trained lawyers, and they are advised on matters of law by the clerk, who sits in front of them. A single magistrate is a professional lawyer, a judge of some description. The judge or magistrates take all the decisions, including the outcome (guilty or not guilty) of a trial.

Crown courts: here there is a judge presiding and a jury who make the not guilty/guilty decision.

It depends on the severity of the charges against the defendant as to which court the trial itself will be held in. Some offences must be heard in the magistrates and some in the crown court, but there are some offences which can be heard in either court, and it is the defendant’s choice.

The crown court can give greater sentences, but on the other hand your case will be heard by a jury. For protest cases a jury might well be sympathetic to the cause, and for this reason we usually reccomend that people choose the crown court, given a choice.

5. The court process

There are usually several processes to go through, involving more than one visit to the courts.

The date given in the charge sheet is for an initial hearing. This is at a magistrates court.

At the initial hearing the charges are read out and the defendant is given the opportunity to plead guilty or not guilty. If you are not sure about what you want to do, read the article by LDMG or speak to someone at GBC to get support. If you have a solicitor experienced in protest law then they will be able to offer advice. The advice in general is to plead ‘not guilty’.

If you plead ‘not guilty’ then:

- The magistrate will make arrangements for the trial hearing, i.e. the date, length and place.
- Bail will be set again, often the bail conditions will be dropped or changed.
- Other dates may be set, e.g. for the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service – they conduct the case for the police) to provide (disclose) their evidence. A date might be set for a case management hearing.

The next hearing might be what is called a ‘case management hearing’ (CMH). The cps and your solicitor come back into court to see how the case is progressing. You may or may not, have to appear at his hearing if it happens.

The trial will be held at the date set in the initial hearing. It is often held at the same magistrates court, but if the offence is more severe it will be held in front of a jury at a crown court. If you have any witnesses they will not be required until the trial itself.

If you pleaded guilty, or were found guilty at trial, the next step is for the court to give a sentence, including fines and court costs. Sometimes this will happen at the end of the trial itself, but sometimes the judge or magistrate will ask for a pre sentence report (PSR) (made by the probation service), and a further date is set for a sentencing hearing. If a report is called for you will talk to someone from the probation service to arrange a date and time.

6. Representation in court

You may be represented in court in one of three different ways:

- You may be represented by your solicitor;

- Your solicitor may engage (instruct) a barrister who will represent you in court, meanwhile you will continue to be in touch with your solicitor over any thing to do with your case;

- You may not have a solicitor and are representing yourself. This may because you have decided that you do not want a professional to represent you, for example you have decided to make a political defence, or it may be because you cannot get legal aid and cannot afford to pay for a solicitor. If you are self representing then you are entitled to have some one stand with you in court during any court hearings. The supporting friend is called a McKenzie friend. See the LDMG guide for more information. Also contact ACAB if you would like to talk through your defence and get advice:

7. Dropped charges and other endings

The court process can end in different ways. Many protest cases do not get as far as sentencing, and it is extremely rare to get a prison sentence.

When it does end then it is the end of the case from your point of view, at this stage you can recover any property the police have taken from you, perhaps at the time of the arrest, and get on with your life…

However if your case is dropped along the way you could consider taking a civil action against the police, we can advise you of how to go about this and there is some information on the LDMG web site.

The CPS may drop the case against you all together – this can happen at any stage of the proceedings, even on the day of the trial itself.

The judge or magistrate may throw the case out. Again this can happen at any stage, but most frequently would be during the trial, for example if the police did not turn up to give evidence, or the judge thought your defence case was strong enough by half way through the trial.

The trial may proceed to its end and you may be found not guilty of the alleged offence.

You may decide to plead guilty or you may be found guilty at the end of the trial. There will then be a sentence given to you which ends the court procedure. Of course this may not be the end of the matter. GBC and LDMG can continue to offer you support following this.

Mostly sentences consist of community work or a fine, or a suspended sentence. On the very very rare occasions that a custodial sentence (prison) is given, again we will give you support during your time inside.

You may decide to appeal against a verdict or a sentence, in that case, of course, the legal procedure, and our support, will continue.

8. What is involved in becoming a court monitor

Court monitors perform a vital role in the whole process of supporting people who have been arrested and charged.

As a joint project with LDMG and GBC, we keep a record of everyone we know about who has been arrested at demonstrations, and use this information to provide individual support to those who are going through the legal process.

Interested in becoming a Court Monitor?

We’re always looking for more volunteers to join our team of court monitors, it would be great to hear from you! Email courtsupport[at]
As a court monitor, your main task is to attend a court on the day we expect defendants to be appearing.

At court we:
Make contact with defendants we know about and talk to them to…

- Find out how their case is going
- Put them in contact with a good solicitor if necessary (who can often come out immediately)
- Give advice about the whole court process
- Meet their solicitors if possible
- Find out if we can help with witnesses to the event
- Generally be a listening and supportive ear, take people for a coffee/drink after court
- Get their email and phone numbers so we can continue to support them
- Tell them about LDMG and GBC and put them in touch with defendants groups or other defendants (we have leaflets and contact points, and a defendants email list)
- Sit in the public gallery of the court itself and listen to the hearing, making as many notes as possible. It’s not always easy to hear as one is at the back of the court, sometimes in a screened off section, but every bit of information is useful.Find out when and where their next hearing is, and the why it is taking place. This can be gleaned from listening to the hearing and by asking the defendant/solicitor after the hearing.
- Talk to people in the waiting areas to find out if there are other people there from demonstrations to whom we can offer support. It is important not to push ourselves on people – not everyone wants to be in touch with us. Don’t forget to preface saying hello to someone with words to the affect ’I’m from a support group…’ , people waiting might be wary of officials etc.
- If we are talking to people who might be facing prison, then we can also put them in contact with our prison support group (London ABC) and give them information about what to expect.
- Finally, feed back all the information you have gathered so we can update out records. Every small piece of information is useful so don’t worry if you haven’t been able to find out everything you wanted to – it is probably more useful than you realise!

What if I don’t have a legal background and am unsure of the process?

You don’t need to know all the answers to questions asked by defendants. There is a backup team of people who will be at the end of a phone on the day, or later by phone and email. It is important to only tell a defendant something you are absolutely sure about and get advice about anything else.

We often hear from both defendants and their solicitors telling us how useful and supportive our court monitors have been to help people through what can be a difficult and overwhelming process.

Miscellaneous direct action guides

Practical advice, tips, guides and resources to help you plan action as part of a variety of campaigns or struggles.

The advice here concerns small group actions whose use may be decided upon by a larger campaign or movement. Due to their nature these types of action are often best undertaken by affinity groups.

Miscellaneous direct action guides.pdf643.36 KB

Affinity groups

Introductory articles on small-group direct action, with basic tips and information on structures like affinity groups.

Affinity groups: an introduction

For many small group actions an 'affinity group' is the most effective organisational form. This is a page of information about affinity groups, their structure, uses, history and advice.

What is an affinity group?
An affinity group is a small group of 5 to 20 people who work together autonomously on direct actions or other projects. You can form an affinity group with your friends, people from your community, workplace, or organisation.

Affinity groups challenge top-down decision-making and organising, and empower those involved to take creative direct action. Affinity groups allow people to "be" the action they want to see by giving complete freedom and decision-making power to the affinity group. Affinity groups by nature are decentralised and non-hierarchical, two important principles of anarchist organising and action. The affinity group model was first used by anarchists in Spain in the late 19th and early 20th century, and was re-introduced to radical direct action by anti-nuclear activists during the 1970s, who used decentralised non-violent direct action to blockade roads, occupy spaces and disrupt "business as usual" for the nuclear and war makers of the US. Affinity groups have a long and interesting past, owing much to the anarchists and workers of Spain and the anarchists and radicals today who use affinity groups, non-hierarchical structures, and consensus decision making in direct action and organising.

Affinity group roles [in a demonstration]
There are many roles that one could possibly fill. These roles include:

Medical - An affinity group may want to have someone who is a trained street medic who can deal with any medical or health issues during the action.
Legal observer - If there are not already legal observers for an action, it may be important to have people not involved in the action taking notes on police conduct and possible violations of activists rights.
Media - If you are doing an action which plans to draw media, a person in the affinity group could be empowered to talk to the media and act as a spokesperson.
Action Elf/Vibes-watcher - This is someone who would help out with the general wellness of the group: water, massages, and encouragement through starting a song or cheer. This is not a role is necessary, but may be particularly helpful in day long actions where people might get tired or irritable as the day wears on.
Traffic - If it is a moving affinity group, it may be necessary to have people who are empowered to stop cars at intersections and in general watch out for the safety of people on the streets from cars and other vehicles.
Arrest-able members - This depends on what kind of direct action you are doing. Some actions may require a certain number of people willing to get arrested, or some parts of an action may need a minimum number of arrest-ables. Either way, it is important to know who is doing the action and plans on getting arrested.
Jail support - Again, this is only if you have an affinity group who has people getting arrested. This person has all the arrestees contact information and will go to the jail, talk to and work with lawyers, keep track of who got arrested etc.

Affinity groups are not just useful within a protest or direct action setting, this form of organisation can be used for a wide variety of purposes as the history of affinity groups below illustrates.

History of affinity groups
The idea of affinity groups comes out of the anarchist and workers movement that was created in the late 19th century and fought fascism in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. The Spanish Anarchist movement provides an exhilarating example of a movement, and the actual possibility of a society based on decentralised organisation, direct democracy and the principles behind them.

Small circles of good friends, called "tertulias" would meet at cafes to discuss ideas and plan actions. In 1888, a period of intense class conflict in Europe and of local insurrection and struggle in Spain, the Anarchist Organisation of the Spanish Region made this traditional form (tertulias) the basis of its organisation.

Decades later, the Iberian Anarchist Federation, which contained 50,000 activists, organised into affinity groups and confederated into local, regional, and national councils. Wherever several FAI affinity groups existed, they formed a local federation. Local federations were coordinated by committees were made up of one mandated delegate from each affinity group. Mandated delegates were sent from local federations to regional committees and finally to the Peninsular Committee. Affinity groups remained autonomous as they carried out education, organised and supported local struggles. The intimacy of the groups made police infiltration difficult.

The idea of large-scale affinity group based organisation was planted in the United States on April 30, 1977 when 2,500 people, organised into affinity groups, occupied the Seabrook, New Hampshire nuclear power plant. The growing anti-nuclear power and disarmament movements adopted this mode, and used it in many successful actions throughout the late 1970s and 1980s. Since then, it has been used by the Central America solidarity movement, lesbian/gay liberation movement, Earth First! and earth liberation movement, and many others.

Most recently, affinity groups have been used in the mass actions in Seattle for the WTO and Washington DC for the IMF and World Bank, as well as Philadelphia and Los Angles around the Republican and Democratic National Conventions.

What is a 'cluster' and a 'spokescouncil'?
A cluster is a grouping of affinity groups that come together to work on a certain task or part of a larger action. Thus, a cluster might be responsible for blockading an area, organising one day of a multi-day action, or putting together and performing a mass street theater performance. Clusters could be organised around where affinity groups are from (example: Texas cluster), an issue or identity (examples: student cluster or anti-sweatshop cluster), or action interest (examples: street theater or [black bloc]).

A spokescouncil is the larger organising structure used in the affinity group model to coordinate a mass action. Each affinity group (or cluster) empowers a spoke (representative) to go to a spokescouncil meeting to decide on important issues for the action. For instance, affinity groups need to decide on a legal/jail strategy, possible tactical issues, meeting places, and many other logistics. A spokescouncil does not take away an individual affinity group's autonomy within an action; affinity groups make there own decisions about what they want to do on the streets.

How to start an affinity group
An affinity group could be a relationship among people that lasts for years among a group of friends and activists, or it could be a week long relationship based around a single action. Either way, it is important to join an affinity group that is best suited to you and your interests.

If you are forming an affinity group in your city or town, find friends or fellow activists who have similar issue interests, and thus would want to go to similar actions. Also, look for people who would be willing to use similar tactics - if you want to do relatively high risk lockdowns, someone who does not want to be in that situation may not want to be in the affinity group. That person could do media or medic work, but it may not be best if they are completely uncomfortable around certain tactics of direct action.

If you are looking to join an affinity group at a mass action, first find out what affinity groups open to new members and which ones are closed. For many people, affinity groups are based on trusting relationships based around years of friendship and work, thus they might not want people they don't know in their affinity group. Once you find which affinity groups are open, look for ones that have an issue interest or action tactic that you are drawn to.

What can an affinity group do?
Anything! They can be used for mass or smaller scale actions. Affinity groups can be used to drop a banner, blockade a road, provide back-up for other affinity groups, do street theater, block traffic riding bikes, organise a tree sit, [confront the police, strategic property destruction], change the message on a massive billboard, play music in a radical marching band or sing in a revolutionary choir, etc. There can even be affinity groups who take on certain tasks in an action. For instance, there could be a roving affinity group made up of street medics, or an affinity group who brings food and water to people on the streets.

What makes affinity groups so effective for actions is that they can remain creative and independent and plan out their own action without an organisation or person dictating to them what can and can't be done. Thus, there are an endless amount of possibilities for what affinity groups can do. Be creative and remember: direct action gets the goods!

This text was taken and edited from Anarchism in Action by Shawn Ewald
Edited by Last reviewed 2006

Small group direct action advice

This article explains some of the things to think about when planning an action. It's been written for smaller affinity group actions, rather than for mass street mobilisations. It is not intended to be a comprehensive guide that has to be strictly followed, but more a list of things that might need to be sorted out for an action to happen successfully.

Aims and activity
What would you like the action to achieve? It may be education and agitation, economic damage, physical disruption, solidarity with others in struggle, or elements of all of these and more. It is best to clarify which is your priority. This helps identify the activity needed to achieve your aims.

You may decide on a banner drop, GM crop trashing, machine sabotage, office or site occupation, leafletting, propaganda production or something else completely.

You may have a target in mind already. If so, think through whether it is possible to achieve the aims wanted with the activity you've decided upon.

When you have an idea of the aims, activity and target you have an outline plan. That is - you know what you want to achieve, and will do so by taking a certain type of action on a specific target.

When you have this you can move onto the first reconnaissance (recce) for the action.

Primary recce
Even if the action is to be done at night it may be best to make this first recce a daylight one. Use it for gathering ‘hard information'. Get maps, photographs and plans of the target and the surrounding area. Look for likely drop off points for people, entrance and exit points from the target as well as escape routes. Also look for places for the driver to park up away from the target, or circular routes that could be driven whilst the action takes place.

Primary plan
After the first recce sit down with your fellow planners in a secure location and work out a basic plan. This should include a route to the target that is free of CCTV, a drop off or park up point, entrance point/s into the target, exit point/s and escape route/s.

It should be decided when the action will take place, what time of day or night, roughly how long each part will take (getting to the drop off point, drop off point to target, doing the action, re-grouping, getting back to the pick up point and getting away) and how many people will be needed. The plan should also include where the vehicle will be left/taken and possible routes there.

The plan should also involve communications. This includes who might need to communicate with who and how on the action. This might be between drivers and the people they have dropped off, lookouts and people on the action or a radio scanner monitor and everybody else.

Secondary recce
If the action is going to be at night make this second recce at night as well so as to familiarise yourself with the area in the dark. It may be possible to do both recces on the same day, and then have time for planning the action afterwards.

On this second recce look at the target in more depth. Pay particular attention to any security systems. Actually time the different stages of the action. Think about what tools you will need to do the job and what you will do with them afterwards. Check out the approach and escape routes in more detail, and also the vehicle park up/driving route for during the action. They should all be CCTV-free and there should be alternatives in case of unpredictable circumstances such as cops, roadworks or other people parked up.

Check that the drop off and pick up points are away from buildings and lights, and there is space to turn a vehicle around. If the pick-up point is quite away from the target you may need to decide on a re-group point near the target so everyone leaves together.

Decide what communications equipment you will need and test that it works in the area. Think about the likelihood of carrying away evidence on your clothes and look for places on the getaway route for dumping clothes and perhaps tools. Look for possible regroup points (perhaps a mile or so away) where people could meet up if the action goes wrong and everyone has to scatter.

Detailed action plan
This plan should fill out the basic plan with all the rest of the information needed to carry out the action. It should go from the point people meet to go on the action to the point people disperse at the end. It needs to include precise timings, which routes will be taken, what will be happening at each stage of the action, who will be communicating with who, what tools and other equipment will be needed, what will happen to the vehicle, and what roles need to be filled, e.g. driver, navigator, spotters etc.

The plan should also identify places to dump incriminating evidence as well as regroup point/s. If possible try and arrange to have a trusted person on the end of a phone, well away from the area the action is taking place in, who can be called in an emergency. It might be helpful if they had a large detailed map of the area to direct you if you ring up and are lost. Use a secure mobile for this rather than a landline.

Back up plans
The back up plan/s should be done in the same way as the main action plan. Back ups could be alternative actions to do at the target selected, or new targets entirely.

Consideration should be given to the conditions in which the initial plan will be abandoned and how the decision to revert to a back up plan will be made and communicated to others.

Running through the plans
If possible everyone going on the action should be involved in talking through the plan and making any changes needed. Roles identified should be filled so everyone knows who is doing what. Decisions should be made about what to take (see box on ‘Checklist for Recces/Actions') and it should be established who is going to acquire the different items and bring them to the meeting point for the action. Everyone should make sure they have any mobile phone numbers or radio channels being used on the action. This is the point to identify any new skills the group will need to use and arrange to practice them in a ‘neutral' setting rather than in the middle of an action.

Finally, people should decide how to organise themselves on the action. You could pair off in buddies or split into smaller groups. Doing this makes it easier to look after one another, move quickly and know if anyone is missing. Make sure everybody knows the names and addresses they will be using if arrested.

Before going to the meeting point for the action, run through the checklist of what you will need and give yourself time to get it all together. Be on time to meet up so people aren't left suspiciously hanging around. It may be best to meet up at a neutral place rather than somebody's house or the centre of town.

Once on the way to the action, make sure everyone is clear about what they are doing. Try not to stop on the way unless you really have to, and remember that if you do have to stop most petrol stations and town centres have CCTV. All being well, you'll arrive at your destination without incident. Put any disguises, such as hoods, masks or gloves, on at the last moment, as if you get pulled by the cops it's good to look straight.

If the action is taking place at night it's best not to use torches or internal car lights for around 20 minutes before you get dropped off. This allows your eyes to become accustomed to the dark.

Once the action starts try to keep focussed on what you are doing, but aware of where others are and what is going on around you. It's important to follow the communication structures you have decided on, e.g. making sure you are in earshot/sight of each other if you need to pass a message on/check everyone is there. Everyone should have a watch that has been synchronised beforehand, so at the designated finishing time for the action people know to re-group and get ready to leave. If there is no finish time maybe have an easily identifiable signal.

Get together at the re-group point and check everybody is there and okay. This is easier to do if everybody has teamed up into buddy pairs before the action and then sticks together and keeps an eye on each other. If people are missing try and find out what has happened to them. Depending on the type of action and what happened this may be a point where you want to destroy any incriminating evidence.

If the action doesn't go according to plan and people are forced to scatter, try to stay with your buddy or group, move fast and keep in mind the direction you are going. If it's taking place at night you can very easily get disorientated and lost, so before the action have a look at the map and get a clear idea of what direction and where you could head to if this happens.

The most important thing is to not panic. Remember that many people have got out of the most pear-shaped situations by having a clear head and a grim determination not to be caught!

If it's possible get to the pre-arranged meeting point. If that's not an option get out of the area as quickly as you can, and ring the emergency mobile as soon as it is safe to do so so people know you're okay.


Try and have a meeting of all those that were on the action to discuss how the planning and execution of it went. Think about what was good and bad and try and learn lessons for the next action. This is best done in the first few days after before memories get fuzzy and important details are forgotten.

Mutual aid
Look after yourself and one another. Don't pressure people to go on actions if they are tired or stressed out. Take time out to relax and don't get into ‘the struggle is my life' martyrdom headspace. Address problems and power relations within the group. In the longer term make an effort to learn skills that only one or two people have. This stops them being put under unnecessary pressure, and ensures a balance of responsibility.

Don't let your security slacken because the action is in the past. The cops have longer memories than we do and if your action is considered serious by the state an investigation into it can continue for months - or even years.

Political understanding
Analyse the tactical and strategic impact of your actions. Are there better targets or ways of operating? Read our history and learn from current and past struggles, movements and groups.

It is sometimes useful to communicate to other people what you have done. Maybe write a short article reporting the action for SchNEWS, Earth First! Action Update and other newsletters. Consider issuing an anonymous press release/communiqué to other media. These could be done through an anonymous web based email service set up for this purpose and then only used once. Maybe produce flyposters or stickers about the action and put them up around your local area and send them to other groups. If useful lessons were learnt from the action let other people know by writing a leaflet, discussion document or article.

Broadening the struggle
Help facilitate other people's involvement in the resistance. If you have a closed cell/group help interested people set up another group. If you work in an open group let people know what you are doing and how they can get involved. Doing stalls and printing leaflets with your contact details on are two ways of doing this. Continue with your own activity!.

Taken and edited by libcom from Do or Die

Blockading: a guide

Some campaigns will require a geographical space to be protected. This is a short guide with tips and advice on some ways you can use your bodies and other materials to barricade, blockade and defend territory.

This area could be houses set for eviction, a large workplace being picketed, a forest, an endangered eco-system, an area through which and environmentally destructive road is to be built...

Also included are tips on protecting trees

Tools for the Job

Direct action is an evolving art form - "necessity breeds ingenuity". Remember that the enemy have avidly read this and every other similar guide, and will be constantly devising methods to beat the "tools" described - so you must innovate, improve and invent. Your imagination is the limit! Various different methods of obstruction can be used in combination. Here are some ideas used now.

Padlocks and chains
put on gates cause confusion and may hold up work, while they run around looking for the keys and then bolt croppers. Superglue or liquid metal in their padlocks means that they have to cut off their own locks and keep buying new ones.

are a classic direct action tool. Get them from bike shops - the more you pay, the stronger they are. They fit neatly around pieces of machinery, gates and your neck. It is worth working in pairs when trying to lock on. The person to lock on carries the U shaped section, and loops it around both a suitable fixed piece of machine and their neck. Then their "buddy", carrying lock barrel and key, secures the lock, and hides, or runs off with the key. If locking on to a machine, someone must let the driver know that operating it will break someone's neck. If locking on, you may be there for some time, so choose your point carefully. They may remove any blankets or seats you have, and isolate you from other protesters, sometimes forming a screen around you.

You may want to keep a spare key about your person but they may search you for it. If the buddy stays (with key) within earshot, then you can be released in an emergency. It is important that anything you lock onto cannot be removed or unscrewed. Gates can be removed from their hinges, so consider securing the hinge side as well as the opening side. Most contractors have their own hydraulic bolt croppers, which cut the strongest lock in seconds. The lock gives a frightening jolt when cut, so don't lock on if you have a neck injury. Locks are most effective on targets remote from croppers.

are particularly good underneath machines if you can find inaccessible bits to lock yourself to. They have also been used in tree evictions to attempt to "capture" bailiffs. Loops of strong cord or tape can often be just as effective and are cheaper. Decent handcuffs are difficult to find. Army surplus or "sex shops" sometimes sell weak but expensive ones. Most handcuffs can be undone with a standard key type, which security, police and bailiffs often carry.
coat loop
Thumb cuffs

(from army surplus shops) are quite good, pocket-sized and tricky to get off. However, some would argue that contractors may take less care if it is just your thumb locked on. Try to get double-locking ones which won't keep tightening.

Coat loop lock-ons
These are effective, low tech and cheap. They work by you wrapping your arms around something e.g. a tree or a vehicle axle, and then putting your wrists through loops sewn into your coat lining, under your armpits - right wrist to left armpit and vice versa. Coat loop lock-ons are inconspicuous and mean you are always ready for action! Sew about a metre of strong, tough material - old seat belts and climbing tape - into your coat horizontally across the shoulder blades up to the armholes. Then double back the excess and sew the ends very firmly into place to form loops. The bigger the loops, the easier they are to find in a panicky situation. The smaller they are, the harder it is for them to pull your hands out (although you can twist the loops round and round so they tighten around your wrists). Practice with them.

It works as the tape goes around your shoulder blades directing the pressure around your back rather than on the coat. The loops are very difficult to get to, being under your garments and under your armpits. They may rip or cut your coat to get to them, so use an old coat.

Cherry-Picker Catchers
It would be lovely to see a "cherry-picker" hydraulic platform locked to a tree or building during an eviction. To make a cherry-picker catcher you will need several metres of strong chain or steel cable that can't be cut by manual bolt croppers. The length will depend on the height and method of attachment. The basic idea is to firmly attach one end to a tree or building and then, during eviction, quickly lock the other end through the cherry-picker basket. You will need to surprise and distract the bailiffs.

Cable will require a loop at each end, secured with U-bolts with screw threads mangled, so that they can't be undone. Get the best D-lock you can afford and use it either to directly lock the end to the cherry-picker, or loop the cable or chain around part of the bucket, locking it back to itself. They shouldn't be able to cut this unless they start to carry expensive hydraulic bolt croppers in every cherry-picker. If they do, throw them to the floor. If they send another cherry-picker up to rescue the first, catch that too!

arm linkArm Tubes
Tubes made from plastic or metal piping, the diameter of a clothed arm, are a versatile tool. They need to be the length of two arms, ideally with a strong metal pin welded in the middle. Pairs of people with two tubes can defend a small tree or immobilise a machine. You need to link your arms together inside the tubes, either with handcuffs, or loops of strong cord or climbing tape with karabiners, encircling the object. Be aware that if you lock-on with handcuffs, you won't be able to release yourself.

A shorter tube can be used by one person around a digger arm or prop-shaft for example. For comfort, pad the top of the tube, and keep your arm lower than your heart to maintain blood flow. The number of people in arm tubes determines how large an object you can encircle. If you lie down as a group of say ten people (i.e. 10 tubes) with your feet in the centre of a circle, quite a large area can be covered. Arm tubes have been used to blockade gateways, roads and even airport runways. To remove you, they must cut the tube using hacksaws or angle grinders. Once one tube is cut then the whole circle is broken.

Concrete lock-ons, also called "dragons", are an advancing technology. Set in chimney stacks, in houses, up trees, at the base of trees, in oil barrels, in roads, in cars (immobilised or still drivable) and in tunnels, they have delayed evictions by days. Mobile lock-ons pose a real threat to free flowing infrastructure systems...

All lock-ons are constructed from an arm tube, with a metal crossbar at the bottom, which is then set in concrete. The concrete mix, 1 part cement to 3 parts sandy aggregate, can be strengthened using washing up liquid. Pieces of chopped-up tyres and metal mesh can be added to the mix to hinder drilling out the concrete. Surround the cross bar and arm tube with lots of metal, e.g. a car wheel. The concrete ideally needs months to set to its full strenght. Make them well in advance. On some campaigns, gas canisters have been conspicuously embedded in the lock-on, to deter use of power tools. This has led to the police threatening arrest for explosives offences, so those lock-ons were dismantled by protesters. When building, plan for a comfortable locking on position.

If you're making lots of lock-ons over a large area in a short time, a mobile concreting team with a small mixer might be a sensible way to organise. Ideally, the person who makes the lock-on should be the person who uses it. Try to keep the location of lock-ons quiet and perhaps have one show- piece lock-on to demonstrate to new people.

To lock-on, put your arm down the arm-tube and use climbing tape (perhaps reinforced with wire) plus a karabiner, or anything strong and comfortable which can join your arm to the cross bar. The bailiffs will remove you if they can without actually cracking the lock-on. They often stick a hooked blade on a pole down the tube, to cut any cord or tape attaching you to the lock-on. Fibre-optic remote scopes have been used to see what your arm is attached with. Padding the arm-tube with foam, fabric, cardboard etc, can hinder this. Of course they may tickle you, use threats and intimidation or inflict pain using pressure points or twisting your arm until you unlock yourself. If you are up a tree, they may light fires underneath you to smoke you out.

If they can't get your arm out, they will firstly use an angle-grinder or similar to cut through any outer barrel or other metal coating, then use small pneumatic drills to get through the concrete. They will then need to cut through the arm tube - probably using an angle-grinder. Try surrounding the arm tube with several concentric tubes of increasing diameter, with the spaces filled with concrete to slow their progress further. All this should take quite a while, and will be noisy, dusty and scary. Have your own goggles, ear plugs and dust mask. Prepare for a long stay with food, water and warm clothes. Lock-on at the very last moment as it can be uncomfortable, and go to the loo first!

Ground lock-ons
Dig a hole and drive metal rods halfway into the surrounding soil from the hole before pouring the concrete in. Use one of the rods as the cross bar for the arm tube. Ground lock-ons are best positioned on access routes and at the base of trees. If you can build it amongst the tree's roots, this will reduce the area they have to work in.

Multiple arm tubes are more sociable and restrict access to the lock-on, due to the number of people lying around. Try placing something over a lock-on, leaving enough room to get your arm to it. Cattle-grids, steel plates, lorry wheels and dead cars have all been used. To make it even harder, weld the object to the lock-on.

Alternatively you could build a scaffold / steel bar sculpture, embedded in concrete, leaving only enough room in between to lock-on. You could use rotating bars for this sculpture. Place metal bars inside scaffold poles, packed with grease and ball bearings. Weld the ends to seal them. The rod will spin inside the pole if they try to cut it with an angle grinder. These bars could also be embedded in a lock-on. Ground lock-ons in the bottom of a deep, narrow shaft should force them to dig down to you to before they can attack the lock-on. Lock on with your feet. One lock-on has been made with ski-boots!

Tree lock-ons
Find a sturdy fork in a strong tree. You may need to build a small platform as a base. Then build the lock-on up the tree, hauling cement up a bucket at a time. Make it big, or they'll lower you still attached to it. They may chip some of it away, then lower it. Try and place it somewhere awkward.

Felled tree lock-ons
With this method, each felled tree returns to haunt them! If doing a single lock-on, drill a hole the diameter of your arm and a forearm's length into the thickest part of a felled trunk. To make the hole use a large auger or a chainsaw (very carefully). Remove the bark gently and use it to conceal the finished work. Get a steel eye with a strong screw thread on it, e.g. a gate hinge eye, and screw it into the bottom. Lock onto this.

Alternatively, you could drill all the way through so that two people can lock their wrists together, in the middle from either side. Reinforce the trunk by hammering nails and bits of metal around the lock-on. Smaller logs can be used as a mobile road blocking lock-on.

Some suggest that similar lock-ons in living trees would be effective and wouldn't kill the tree, but this is very controversial and likely to upset a lot of people.


Tripods have successfully been used as a mobile, easily-erected blockade. They are made from easily obtainable materials - scaffold poles from building sites, or long, straight tree trunks (use their work against them!). Sustained tripod sits in conspicuous places near major roads are a good campaign advert and focal point.
Read our detailed guide to making and using tripods

If you have rope or short scaffold poles fixed about 5 foot from the top of the tripod, they won't be able to lower the tripod by pulling it's legs apart. At Newbury in 1996, security guards used a LandRover with a roof rack, which they reversed in under the tripod apex. They stood on the roof and pulled down the sitter, after cutting any handcuffs or locks. It may be worth working on LandRover-proofing; for instance, positioning the tripod so they can't drive under it, or overlapping the legs of several tripods for mutual protection. Cherry-pickers have also been used.

These haven't been used in Britain, but have successfully blocked logging roads in the US and Australia. They generally need careful assembly in advance.

A bipod can be incorporated between two tripods, linked with a rope or further poles via the apex of each structure. The stability of the bipod depends entirely on its link to the two tripods. This method defends a larger area than separate tripods.

These haven't been used much. They can be dug vertically into the ground and shinned up to create an obstacle. Alternatively, you could perch them at bizarre angles, fixing one end, to form a cantilever, and dangle from the free end! There are lots of variations on this basic technique. All look fairly dangerous.

Scrap cars
You can buy these very cheaply, and register them with a false name and address. Be aware that driving an unroadworthy, uninsured, untaxed car will get you arrested if you're stopped. You can use scrap cars to quickly blockade a gate, road, motorway, or just about anything. Lock- ons can be built into the car to make them an even more potent tool, or you can just lock onto the chassis. To start the blockade, quickly immobilise the car by slashing tyres, removing wheels, or turning it over.

These are nasty, small, multi-spiked metal objects, designed so that they always lie with a point upwards. They puncture the tyres of any vehicle which drives over them, and so can be placed on access roads or tossed under the wheels. They should only be used on a slow-moving or stationary vehicle. There are many problems with caltrops. They are dangerous to drivers if used on a fast-moving vehicle, and to people and animals if trodden on. If you are caught using or even carrying them, you are likely to be arrested for possession of an offensive weapon, or perhaps something more serious. Because they look menacing, the police will happily use them to discredit your campaign by calling them "weapons". They are not even a particularly reliable vehicle-stopper, as a tyre can miss them. Therefore, we advise thinking very carefully before using caltrops at all.

Smoke bombs
Reliable smoke distress signals can be bought at boat jumbles for about £4. (see a copy of Practical Boat Owner magazine). They billow out loads of thick coloured smoke, and will float on water. Smaller, cheaper versions can be bought at paintball shops. Set them off upwind, to hinder an eviction, cover an action, escape, or provide a diversion. Don't get caught with one, as the police don't like them.

Anti-quickcuff gauntlets
Quickcuffs and handcuffs may be used by police, bailiffs and climbers to catch you during evictions. To prevent this, try this simple and effective idea. Cut a cardboard strip about 20 cm x 60 cm. Wrap this quite tightly around your wrist and forearm, and tape it to form a tapering cylinder. Then cut a hole for your thumb, so that you can hold onto the gauntlet if anyone tries to pull it off.

Protecting trees
For protecting trees, in addition to blockades you can use weapons against chainsaws. If you are unable to remove or sabotage chainsaws or their fuel from the developers, you'll need special tools to stop them.

Chainsaw whips
These are made from frayed synthetic rope or fabric. If flicked at the chainsaw blade, the whip will catch in the saw teeth, and be dragged into the drive mechanism. Make sure you let go! The synthetic fibres clog up the drive mechanism and may melt into it. Note which direction the saw teeth are moving, so that you whip the correct side.

Gunk bombs
Fine grain sand, mixed with wallpaper paste and short lengths of fishing line, can be used to stuff condoms or balloons. Throw these at chainsaw blades. The mixture needs to be viscous so that it sticks to the blade when it hits.

Tree-bark gunking
Try coating the tree at chainsaw level with sticky biodegradable gunk, such as molasses. You can embed sand, kevlar pieces (from tree surgeons' protective trousers) and pieces of wire into the gunk.

Invasive tree defence
Invasive techniques may cause some damage to trees. Iron does not kill trees, but copper or brass will poison it.

The safest, and arguably most useful, invasive technique is to wrap the tree in frayed polyprop covered in stapled-down chicken wire and metal cable, nailed down corrugated iron and other bits of metal, bitumen, etc. Please remove it if you win!

Spiking involves driving large nails or similar deep into the tree. Chainsaw operators might be injured if their saw unexpectedly hits a spike within a tree, and "kicks back". Therefore you must have permanent warning signs, and you should also make the spiking blatantly obvious. The chainsaw operators will then have to carefully and slowly remove all metal before starting work. They may use metal detectors for this, so make sure they know if you're using non-metal spikes (eg. ceramic or plastic). Be very, very conscienscious and careful if using this tactic.

Spiking has been most effective when used to fight large logging operations outside Britain, where the developer's goal is to clear-cut forest and process the timber. Spikes can mangle processing machinery in the saw mill. Where the objective is to stop trees being trashed rather than to stop their felling for timber, spiking may not be very effective - especially as many trees are simply bulldozed here, and usually burnt.

This text was taken and edited from Road Raging: Top Tips for Wrecking Roadbuilding
Edited by Last reviewed 2006

Scaffold tripods guide

In our blockading guide we cover many ways of defending territory. This page goes into more detail about setting up scaffolds which can be used to effectively block roads or small throughways such as factory entrances.

For your basic Tripod, acquire: 3 scaff-poles, about 25 feet long

2 swivelling scaff-clips

Rope (cheap blue poly-prop available from the local hardware shop is fine)Spanner to tighten scaff clip

A Spanner is needed for the nuts on the clips. You also need a fairly large (high if indoors) space for fixing them, experimenting and practising.

It's tricky to get the clips fitted on so that the poles can be held parallel (for carrying etc.) and at the same time be in the right position to erect as a tripod.

The main assembly is formed by securing two poles in an 'A' Shape and using a third to prop the two up.

The securing clip for the third pole has to be about a foot below the 'A ' shape clip, this allows the main poles to close over it in the folded position.

This clip should be mounted at roughly 120 degrees in relation to the main clip in order to swivel open correctly.

With a little experimentation you will find where to place the clips so that the poles lie parallel for transport yet are easily opened into a tripod.

You will probably need at least 5 people to erect a tripod made with steel poles:

At least one strong person to lift each of the two main legs by walking down beneath it from apex to base;

one person to do the same with the third leg and at a crucial moment, to swing this leg out and to prop up the 'A';

and one person with their foot braced against the base of each main pole to stop it skidding forward.

With aluminium poles the job is easier, demanding only 3 people.

Once the tripod is erected, at least one person must shin up the pole at the speed of light in order to be out of reach at the top.

A simple circumference rope tying the poles together about three feet from the top can be fixed prior to erection if desired and used to take the weight of up to three people.

A simple hammock sling is more comfortable and stylish. It's made out of a length of strong light material, such as rip stop nylon, knotted at either end, with the two ends of a short rope tied securely just inside these knots. The rope can be slung over your shoulders as you shin up the poles, and when you reach the top simply slipped over the poles making your stay much more comfortable.

For extra stability and a convivial number at the top, three short horizontal poles with clips can be used as braces. Leave each short pole dangling from one of its clips until the tripod is up, then do up the second clip.

Before climbing remember to take the spanner - you may not have a second chance to get up with it.
A climbing harness and slings make this job easier.

This augmented tripod will be heavier and may require a greater number of people to lift it.

A tripod lacking these bars can be stabilised using a circumference rope linking the legs a couple of feet above the ground. This will secure against collapse due to accidental slippage, but not against attack. Car exhaust clips are useful to stop the ropes riding up.

Hot tip
Painting "L", "R" and "M" on the poles near the bottom, so it's easily visible

Subvertising billboards

A guide to subvertising - altering commercial outdoor poster and billboard advertisements to get your message across.

The Art & Science of Billboard Improvement
a comprehensive guide to the alteration of outdoor advertising

Look up! Billboards have become as ubiquitous as human suffering, as difficult to ignore as a beggar's outstretched fist. Every time you leave your couch or cubicle, momentarily severing the electronic umbilicus, you enter the realm of their impressions. Larger than life, subtle as war, they assault your senses with a complex coda of commercial instructions, the messenger RNA of capitalism. Every time you get in a car, or ride a bus, or witness a sporting event, you receive their instructions. You can't run and you can't hide, because your getaway route is lined to the horizon with signs, and your hidey-hole has a panoramic view of an 8-sheet poster panel.

There are a million stories in the Big City, and as many reasons to want to hack a billboard. We have our reasons, and we don't presume to judge yours. In this manual, we have made a conscious effort to steer clear of ideology and stick to methodology. The procedures outlined here are based on our 20+ years' experience executing billboard improvements professionally, safely, and (knock wood) without injury or arrest. In most cases, is should not be necessary to follow the elaborate, even obsessive precautions we outline here. A can of spray paint, a blithe spirit, and a balmy night are all your really need.

- Blank DeCoverly
BLF Information Systems

1) Selecting a Billboard
In choosing a sign, keep in mind that the most effective alterations are often the simplest. If you can totally change the meaning of an advertisement by changing one or two letters, you'll save a lot of time and trouble. Some ads lend themselves to parody by the inclusion of a small image or symbol in the appropriate place (a skull, radiation symbol, happy face, swastika, vibrator, etc.). On other boards, the addition of a cartoon "thought bubble" or "speech balloon" for one of the characters might be all that is needed.

Once you have identified a billboard message you wish to improve, you may want to see if there are multiple locations displaying the same advertisement. You should determine which ones give your message optimum visibility. A board on a central freeway will obviously give you more exposure than one on an obscure side street. You must then weigh the location/visibility factor with other crucial variables such as physical accessibility, potential escape routes, volume of foot and vehicular traffic during optimum alteration hours, etc. Of course, if you can improve more than one board in the same campaign, so much the better.

There are several standard sign types in the outdoor advertising industry. Knowing which type of sign you are about to alter may prove useful in planning the operation:
Bulletins are large outdoor sign structures, typically situated alongside federal highways and major urban freeways. They measure 14 x 48 feet and are usually leased in multi-month contracts, meaning that an advertisement will stay in place for at least 60 days.

30-Sheet Poster Panels measure 12 x 25 feet, are situated along primary and secondary roadways, and are usually updated every 30 days.

8-Sheet Poster Panels measure 6 x 12 feet and are usually found in high-density urban neighborhoods and suburban shopping areas. They are designed to reach both pedestrian and vehicular traffic, and are leased in 30-day increments.

Out-of-Home Media is the industry term for advertising targeted at people on the go, including bus shelters, bus exterior s, taxis, subway stations, street furniture (newsstands, benches, kiosks), painted walls, and "indoor out of home" locations like airports and malls.

There are of course many non-standard formats as well, and these frequently make the most intriguing targets. Oversized bulletins, animated signs, painted buildings, and boards with neon all offer unique challenges for advanced operations. Signs featuring large, illuminated text can often be improved simply by turning off a few letters, converting 'HILLSDALE" to "LSD," for instance, or "HOTEL ESSEX" to "HOT SEX." The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

2) Planning the Improvement Action
Though the sudden urge to just climb right up a sign and start hacking can occasionally be overwhelming, in our experience this type of "impulse improvement" tends to deliver unsatisfactory results, at unnecessary personal risk. The guidelines that follow draw on the BLF's proud 20-year history of planning and executing such actions without injury or arrest.

A) Accessibility
How do you get up on the board? Will you need your own ladder to reach the bottom of the board's ladder? Can you climb the support structure? Is the board on a building rooftop, and if so, can it be reached from within the building, from a fire escape, or perhaps from an adjoining building? If you need ladders to work the board, they may occasionally be found on platforms on or behind the board, or on adjacent boards or rooftops.

B) Practicality

How big are the letters and/or images you would like to change? How close to the platform at the bottom of the board is your work area? On larger boards you can rig from above and hang over the face to reach points that are too high to reach from below. We don't recommend this method unless you have some climbing and rigging experience. When hanging in one position your work area is very limited laterally. Your ability to leave the scene quickly diminishes proportionately to how convoluted your position has become. Placing huge words or images is much more difficult.

C) Security
After choosing your board, be sure to inspect it, both during the day and at night. Take note of all activities in the area. Who is about at 2:00 a.m.? How visible will you be while scaling the support structure? Keep in mind you will make noise; are there any apartment or office windows nearby? Is anyone home? Walk lightly if you're on a rooftop-who knows who you're walking over.

What is the visibility to passing cars on surface streets and freeways? What can you see from your work position on the board? Even though it is very difficult to see a figure on a dark board at night, it is not impossible. Any point you have line-of-sight vision to is a point from which you can be observed. How close is your board to the nearest police station or Highway Patrol headquarters? What is their patrol pattern in the area? Average response time to Joe Citizen's call? You can get an idea by staking out the area and observing. Is it quiet at night or is there a lot of foot traffic? When the bars let out, will this provide cover-i.e., drunks keeping the cops busy-or will it increase the likelihood of detection by passersby? Do they care? If you are definitely spotted, it may pay to have your ground crew approach them rather than just hoping they don't call the cops. Do not let them connect you with a vehicle. Have your ground crew pretend to be chance passersby and find out what the observer thinks. We've been spotted at work a number of times and most people were amused. You'll find that most people, including officials, don't look up unless given a reason to do so.

Go up on the board prior to your hit. Get a feeling for being there and moving around on the structure at night. Bring a camera-it's a good cover for doing anything you're not supposed to: "Gee, officer, I'm a night photographer, and there's a great shot of the bridge from up here . . . " Check your escape routes. Can you cross over rooftops and leave by a fire escape across the block? etc., etc.

D) Illumination
Most boards are brightly lit by floodlights of some type. Most large boards are shut off some time between 11:00 p.m. and 2:00 am by a time clock control somewhere on or near the board. Smaller boards frequently are controlled by photo-electric cells or conventional timeclocks, also somewhere on the board. If you find the photo-electric cell, you can turn the lights on the board off by taping a small flashlight directly into the cell's "eye." This fools the unit into thinking it's daytime and shutting the lights off.

As noted, most larger boards are controlled by timeclocks. These can be found in the control panels at the base of the support structure and/or behind the board itself. These panels are often locked (particularly those at the structure's base). Unless you are familiar with energized electrical circuitry and devices of this type we caution you to wait until the clock shuts itself off at midnight or so. Many of these boards run 220 volts and could fry you to a crisp.

E) Daytime Hits
We don't recommend this method for most high boards on or near freeways and major roads. It works well for doing smaller boards lower to the ground where the alteration is relatively quick and simple. If you do choose to work in the light, wear coveralls (company name on the back?) and painters' hats, and work quickly. Keep an eye out for parked or passing vehicles bearing the billboard company's or advertiser's name. Each board has the company emblem at its bottom center. If you're on a Sleaze Co. board and a Sleaze Co. truck pulls up, you're probably in trouble. It is unlikely that the workers will try to physically detain you (try bribery if necessary), but they will probably call the cops.

3) Producing Graphical Overlays
Though powerful improvements are occasionally executed with nothing more than a spray can and a sharp wit, most actions require the production of some type of graphical overlay to alter the board's message. The more professional-looking these overlays, the greater impact your modified ad is likely to have on the public. This is not to say that every hit needs to look exactly like an original - this would be prohibitively expensive for most groups, and in these days of computer-assisted photo enhancement, could arguably lead to the accusation that your hit was a binary illusion, crafted on a Macintosh rather than on the urban landscape. While technical competence is a worthy goal to pursue (and a major motivator for the BLF), the success or failure of your alteration will ultimately depend more on the quality of your thinking and the power of your altered message than on how well you can match a font.

A) Choosing a Production Method
Before you get too deep into the design process, you need to decide how the overlays will be produced. If you're lucky enough to have access to commercial sign-printing equipment, you can go the professional route and opt for industry-standard vinyl. Vinyl overlays are strong, light, easy to transport, and easy to apply, but unless you have an industry insider on your team, they will probably be too expensive to produce. If you or a collaborator have late-night access to the facilities of a commercial printer, neighborhood copy shop, or advertising bureau, you may be able to output your overlays on a large-format color printer or plotter. The venerable LaserMaster, with its sturdy coated paper and 36-inch track, is a BLF favorite, but there are many other models in the field.

Printing on paper nearly always requires a process known as "tiling" - cutting the image up into smaller pieces that are then reassembled into a whole. Popular computer programs like Quark Xpress and Adobe PageMaker can perform this function automatically, by selecting the "Tiling" option from the Print menu. If you don't have access to a wide-track printer, try to locate a machine that can handle 11x17 tabloid-sized paper - the bigger your printer's output, the fewer pieces you'll have to tile back together to create a finished overlay. Most neighborhood copy shops and many corporate offices now have color printers/copiers with 11x17 output.

For low cost and maximum durability, consider canvas. When impregnated with oil-based lacquer paint, a canvas overlay has the potential to last longer than the sign surface it's affixed to. It's heavier to carrier and more difficult to secure to the sign, but it's a reliable, low-tech alternative that can be implemented inexpensively.

We don't recommend using overlays much larger than 4'x3'. If your message is larger, you should section it and butt the sections together for the finished image. It gets very windy on boards, and large paste-overs are difficult to apply.

B) Scale
If you are changing only a small area (one letter, a small symbol, etc.) you probably do not need to go to any elaborate lengths to match or design your "overlay" (we'll use this term to describe the finished image/lettering you'll be applying to the board). Just take actual measurements or tracings directly off the board. If, however, you intend to create overlays of great size and/or number of letters and you want the finished image to look as much as possible like the advertisers themselves had made it, you should plan on more elaborate preparation. Find a position roughly level with the board and looking at it square on (200 to 1000 or so feet away). Photograph the board from this position and make a tracing from a large print of the photo. Using measurements you have taken on the board (height, width, letter height, etc.), you can create a scale drawing of your intended alteration. From this, it is possible to determine how large your overlays will need to be and what spacing will be required between letters.

C) Color Matching
There are two basic ways to match the background and/or colors of the lettering or image area:

On painted or paper boards you can usually carve a small (1"x1") sample directly off the board. This does not always work on older painted boards which have many thick layers of paint.

Most large paint stores carry small paint sampler books. It is possible to get a pretty close match from these samplers. We suggest sticking to solid colors and relatively simple designs for maximum visual impact.

D) Letter Style
If you wish to match a letter style exactly, pick up a book of fonts from a graphic arts store or borrow one from a self-serve print shop. Use this in conjunction with tracings of existing letters to create the complete range of lettering needed for your alteration. You can convincingly fake letters that aren't on the board by finding a closely matching letter style in the book and using tracings of letters from your photo of the board as a guide for drawing the new letters.

E) Producing Overlays From Computer Output
Computers with desktop publishing software offer many advantages to the modern billboard liberator. Fonts and colors can be matched precisely, professional-looking graphical elements can be added to your text message, and scale and spacing become much easier to calculate. There are many software packages suitable for producing overlays, including PageMaker, Quark Xpress, Illustrator, Freehand, CorelDraw, and various CAD programs. Adobe Photoshop gives you the additional flexibility of being able to preview your hit - just scan in a photograph of the original board and apply your modification over it as an independent layer.

After you have designed the overlay and printed out your tiles, you'll need to assemble the individual printouts jigsaw-style and glue them onto some sort of backing material. Heavy pattern paper works best for this, but you can also use 1/8-inch foamcore for smaller overlays, i.e. those less than 30 inches on a side. Start in one corner, adhering the first tile with spray adhesive to the backing material. Carefully assemble the rest of the tiles, trimming off unprinted margin space as required and laying them down one at a time, making sure all the edges are well-secured. If you get a little off-kilter at some point in the process and the pieces don't line up with absolute precision, don't worry - large-scale work is more forgiving since people will be viewing it at a distance. When all the tiles are secured, reinforce the edges with clear packing tape. If it's going to be a wet night, or if there's a chance your work may stay up for a few days or more, consider weather-proofing your overlay with a coat of clear lacquer.

F) Tiling With a Photocopier
If you don't have access to a computer with desktop publishing software, but do have access to a good copy machine, you can duplicate the procedure described above using the copier's "enlarge" function. First, create a scale original of your overlay on a single sheet of paper, using stencils or rub-off lettering. Next, pencil a grid over your drawing, with each square being equivalent to the largest size of paper the copier can accommodate (letter, legal, tabloid, etc.). Cut the original into pieces along the penciled lines, then enlarge each piece on the copier, going through as many generations as necessary until each piece fills its own sheet of paper. Assemble the pieces as described above, adding color with lacquer paints or permanent markers. Weatherproof if desired.

G) Producing Overlays by Hand
We recommend using heavy pattern paper and high-gloss, oil-based lacquer paints. The lacquer paint suffuses the paper, making it super-tough, water resistant, and difficult to tear. For making overlays, roller coat the background and spray paint the lettering through cardboard cut-out templates of the letters. For extremely large images or panels, use large pieces of painted canvas. The canvas should be fairly heavy to avoid being ripped to shreds by the winds that buffet most billboards. Glue and staple 1"x4" pine boards the entire horizontal lengths of the top and bottom of the canvas. The canvas will then roll up like a carpet for transportation and can be unrolled over the top of the board and lowered into place by ropes.

H) Methods of Application
Although there are many types of adhesive that can be used, we recommend rubber cement. Rubber cement is easily removable (but if properly applied will stay up indefinitely) and does not damage or permanently mark the board's surface. This may become important if you're apprehended and the authorities and owners attempt to assess property damage. Application of rubber cement on large overlays is tricky. You need to evenly coat both the back-side of the overlay and the surface of the board that is to be covered. Allow one to two minutes drying time before applying the paper to the board. To apply the cement, use full sized (10") house paint rollers and a five-gallon plastic bucket. Have one person coat the back of the overlays while another coats the board's surface. Both people will be needed to affix the coated overlay to the finished board surface. On cool nights there may be condensation on the board, in which case the area to be covered needs to be wiped down first - use shop towels or a chamois for this.

To level overlay panels on the board, measure up from the bottom (or down from the top) of the board to the bottom line of where it needs to be in order to cover the existing copy. Make small marks at the outermost left and right-hand points. Using a chalk snap line with two people, snap a horizontal line between these two points. This line is your marker for placing your overlay(s).

If you have a canvas or paper overlay as described in (F) above, you can either tie the four corners and middle (top and bottom) very securely, or, if you can reach the face of the board by ladder or rope, attach the panel by screwing the 1"x4" boards to the billboard. A good battery powered drill is needed for this. We recommend hex-head "Tek" sheet metal screws, #8 or #10 size. Use a hex head driver bit for your drill. These screws work well on either wood backboards or sheet metal.

4) Executing the Hit
Once you've completed your preparations and are ready for the actual hit, there are many things which can be done to minimize the risk of apprehension and/or injury:

A) Personnel
Have the smallest number of people possible on the board. Three is about optimum-two for the actual work and one lookout/communications person. Depending on your location, you may require additional spotting personnel on the ground (see below).

B) Communications
For work on larger boards where you're exposed for longer periods of time, we recommend compact CB units or FM-band walkie-talkies. Low cost CB walkie-talkies are available from Radio Shack and elsewhere, and can can fitted with headsets and microphones for ease of use.

Have one or two cars positioned at crucial intersections within sight of the board. The ground crew should monitor oncoming traffic and maintain radio contact with the lookout on the board. (Note: Do not use the popular CB or FM channels; there are many other frequencies to choose from. A verbal code is a good idea since the channels you will be using will not be secure.)

It's crucial that the ground crew don't lounge around their vehicle(s) or in any other way make it obvious that they're hanging around in a (likely) desolate area late at night for no apparent reason. A passing patrol car will notice them much sooner than they will notice operatives on the board. Keep a low profile. We've found that lookouts dressed as winos, or as homeless couples, are virtually invisible additions to the urban landscape. Park all vehicles out of sight of the operation.

C) Safety
The risk of apprehension on a board pales in comparison to the risk of falling, and safety concerns should always prevail over security. If you're not an experienced climber, you're better off helping out on the ground: as a security lookout, graphic designer or publicist. Even if you are an experienced climber, we don't recommend solo actions on any board larger than 8 panels (6x12 feet). Ideally, all field actions should incorporate the buddy system, but particularly those that require any sort of rigging. If you're going to lean over the top of the board to affix any overlays, you should have a secured partner belaying you. It's a long way down, so be careful up there.

D) Clean-up
Billboard structures are notorious trash magnets as it is; don't make matters worse by leaving your empty glue tubes, discarded vinyl backing, cigarette butts and empties on the property. The responsible billboard liberator leaves nothing of his own behind (not even fingerprints), though he may on occasion leave a cold six-pack for the benefit of those hard-working signmen assigned to the unglamorous task of un-altering his alteration.

E) Escape

If you've done your homework, you'll know the terrain surrounding the board quite well. In the event of detection, prepare a number of alternate routes out of the area, and a rendezvous point with the ground support crew. If a patrol is approaching and you are in a difficult spot for quickly ditching and hiding (hanging on a rope in the middle of the board, for instance), it may be better simply to stay still until they pass. Movement is more likely to catch the eye.

Once on the ground, if pursuit is imminent, hiding may be your safest bet. If you've covered the terrain carefully, you'll be aware of any good hiding spots. Keep in mind that if the police do a thorough search (doubtful, but not impossible), they will use high-powered spotlights from cars and flashlights if on foot.

Stashed clothing in your hiding spot may prove useful. A business suit, perhaps, or rumpled and vomit-encrusted leisure wear. Be creative.

4) Publicizing Your Action

Like the advertisements they improve, your actions should aim for the greatest possible reach. Try to time your improvement so it stays up for as long as possible, and generates the greatest possible number of "impressions." Actions executed at the beginning of a holiday weekend tend to stay up longest, since repair crews are less readily available. Yet even if your improvement survives for two or three days on a major urban thoroughfare, it won't attain the kind of reach you can get with media attention.

A) Photographs
Color slides are best for magazine and newspaper submissions, but online publishers prefer high-resolution .jpeg files. Be sure to get a good "before" picture of the board to be altered, ideally taken from the same camera position and at the same time of day (or night) as the "after" photograph. An "after" picture should be taken as soon as possible after the action is completed; if you want a daytime shot as well, come back for it later.

B) Press Releases
May be serious or surreal, according to your motives and whim. Basically a cover letter for your photographs, which comprise the essence of the story. Most libraries carry one of the major PR reference guides, which list contacts for every printed publication and broadcast company in the country (while you're there, research standard AP style for press releases). Better yet, record your manifesto on an audio cassette or CD, then tape it to the bottom of a payphone outside a reporter's office and call in your "anonymous tip." The more creative you are, the more likely you are to get the desired response.

If anyone reading this primer finds it of any use in their own advertising endeavors, we at the BLF will consider it successful. We believe roadside advertising enhancement is a pastime more individuals should engage in. It's not that difficult to do smaller, low-to-the-ground boards. A quick hit-and-run on such a board will not require all of the elaborate preparations and precautions we have detailed. The more "real" messages we have on the freeways and streets, the better.

- R.O. Thornhill
BLF Education Officer

- Blank DeCoverly
BLF Minister of Propaganda

© copyright 1990, 1999 by Billboard Liberation Front. Reprint permission granted to non-profit, anti-authoritarian websites and periodicals. Commercial websites and publishers may not reproduce this manual or any portion of it except for review purposes

The Art & Science of Billboard Improvement was originally published in Processed World magazine. We wish to thank the PW staff for their help in making this document possible. Thanks also to Lloyd Void and Paizley Hayes of Twisted Times magazine, the Institute of Media Deconstruction, the Institute of Rational Analysis of National Trends, and -- of course -- the sign industry.

Pre-press services made possible by a grant from the FUCK YOU, IT'S ART! Foundation.

Published in the USA by Infohazard Heavy Industries, a non-traceable subsidiary of NeverMind, Inc. Text taken from

Prison organising

Practical advice guides on supporting class struggle prisoners or surviving prison yourself, from letter-writing to prison slang, staying safe to getting involved in prison struggles.

If you're struggling for a better world, there is a chance that someone you know or even you yourself could go to prison. Thousands of people have been jailed for standing up for themselves and their communities - be they strikers, anti-war demonstrators, non-payers of unfair taxes...

The following articles are guides to help people deal with various aspects of prison life.

Prison organising.pdf453.46 KB

Prison survival guide

A guide to surviving prison or preparing yourself to go to prison, with tips on staying safe, prison etiquette, how to deal with guards and other prisoners, how to get involved in organising and struggle, and more.

Imprisonment as a form of punishment can be traced back to Greek times, but until relatively recently long-term incarceration was extremely rare, only flourishing in modern times after transportation to 'the colonies' became unviable (in no small part due to the American Revolution).

Traditionally, those that offended against society were punished publicly, generally in the most brutal way, from the stocks to the gibbet. Public executions, often with attendant torture and/or mutilation, were the norm in this country until the 17th century. Even when they were abolished it was not out of any sense of decency or humanity, but according to the Oxford History of the Prison, because they had "become the occasion of rowdiness and disgust - both because the crowd had begun to identify with the victim, not the executioner, and because the spectacle had become revolting, offending a new sensibility about pain and bodily integrity. Thus, it became desirable to mete out punishment away from the public gaze."

Today, prison is still very much a closed world, and while within the past two decades TV cameras have occasionally been able to show a very limited view of life behind bars, they rarely capture anything more than that which the authorities wish them to see. The true misery of imprisonment is deliberately kept secret from the general public, while the right-wing press and unscrupulous politicians conspire to present a picture of cushy 'holiday camps' and 'health farms'. The prison authorities do everything within their power (legal and illegal) to prevent investigative journalists having contact with prisoners and vice-versa, while Michael Howard and Jack Straw imposed a ban preventing visiting journalists reporting anything at all. Though the ban has subsequently been deemed unlawful, the vast majority of journalists are so lazy, cowardly, and/or clueless that it might as well still be in place.

With the British prison population currently growing at a rate of four hundred a week, and New Labour's draconian policies criminalising dissent, as a political activist it is more likely that you will see the inside of a prison cell than at any time in recent history. For those committed to the overthrow of the state, imprisonment has to be seen as an occupational hazard, and as such it's better to consider it beforehand, rather than when it's too late.

During my life I've spent time in over 20 British prisons (plus at least a dozen more I've visited or 'stopped over' at) including local prisons, remand centres, long-term Category B prisons, all Britain's maximum security dispersal prisons, a couple of Category A units and 16 segregation units. I've been around a bit, but I've never been anywhere near a low security or 'open' prison, and though I correspond with a number of women prisoners, I've obviously never been held in a women's prison. So while I think I'm pretty well qualified to talk about the prison experience, there are limits to what I know, and inevitably this piece reflects that.

Preparing for prison
If you know you're going to be imprisoned, at least that gives you a head start. Maybe you can even talk to someone who's been in your local nick, and who knows the rules and can give you an idea what to expect. The 'unknown' is the scariest thing of all, isn't it? Prison is the worst thing our society has.

The most common fear, certainly among men, seems to be that if they get locked up they'll 'have to go in the showers with Mr. Big.' Forget that - predatory homosexuality is as rare in British prisons as malt whisky, in fact in some prisons it's a great deal rarer. There's probably more chance of you being raped or sexually assaulted 'outside' than in here. I have never actually come across a single occurrence.

Then there's the fear of non-sexual violence - are you going to be locked up with a load of thugs and psychopaths who'll cut your throat as soon as look at you? Again, this is largely exaggerated, but violence does exist in prison. However, it's a relatively simple matter to minimise the likelihood of being attacked. In my experience there's far less random violence in prison than in wider society. I was in an adult long-term prison at 19, and the only time I've ever been attacked it was by the screws.

The prison lexicon
While some words of prison slang are hundreds of years old, others are being introduced all the time. Here are just a few examples:
Adidas sex-case: prison issue plimsolls.
Apple or Apple core: Score - 20, hence 20 years or £20.
Bang up: time locked in cell.
Bed-leg: a homemade cosh. The word comes from the small section of steel pipe used to separate prison bunks, which would be put in a sock to make a weapon.
Burglars: security or 'DST' ('Dedicated Search Team').
Chip-net: safety net strung between landings.
Cucumbers (or 'Numbers' or 'Protection'): 'Nonces' or 'Bacons' (sex offenders) and other 'Protection-heads' (debtors, grasses, cell thieves etc.) are usually segregated for their own safety under Prison Rule 45 (formerly 43). They should not be confused with prisoners held in the block (the segregation unit) under Prison Rule 45 GOAD (Good Order and Discipline).
Diesel: prison tea.
The enchanted: prisoners on the 'Enhanced Privilege Level'.
Ghosting: to be transferred to another prison, suddenly and without notice.
Jam-roll: parole.
Jimmy or Jimmy Boyle: foil used by smackheads to smoke heroin.
Kangas (or 'Scoobys'): screws.
L-Plates: a life sentence.
Little fellers: cigarette butts.
Midnight: Midnight mass - grass.
Pad: a cell.
Patches: a prison uniform with prominent yellow panels worn by prisoners captured after an escape or following an attempted escape.
Peter: an older name for a cell, also for a safe.
Pie and liquor: the vicar.
Salmon or Salmon and trout - Snout: tobacco.
Shit and a shave (or shit and a shower): a short sentence.
Spin: a search (as in 'pad-spin').
Stiff: a smuggled note.
Stretch: a sentence or a year (a '10 stretch' is a 10 year sentence).
Tram lines: a distinctive scar caused by a prison-made weapon which uses two razor blades melted into a toothbrush.

Wet-up (or Jug-up): to scald someone, usually with a mixture of boiling water and sugar.

Staying safe comes down to basics. Stay alert and learn some manners - prison is a close environment containing too many people, so manners are extra important. Be polite to people, treat them with mutual respect, don't be nosy or impinge on their limited personal space, never borrow things without asking, don't boast or bullshit, never grass anyone up, and even more importantly, avoid drugs (heroin) and stay away from junkies. When I was at Full Sutton in 1996, there was an average of one stabbing a week, but almost all of them were related to smack.

While adult prisons, particularly long-term ones, tend to be a fairly mature environment, 'Young Offenders Institutions' (for those under 21) can be different, and violence less easy to avoid. The general advice still applies though - be assertive not aggressive, but don't let people take liberties with you, and if necessary be prepared to fight. Some self defence training may give you an edge, but be warned that prison fights are always dirty - you can expect to be bitten, scalded, stabbed, coshed, and/or attacked by multiple assailants. Attacks are likely to take place in the showers or when the victim is still in bed.

In reality, it's not other prisoners you should be worried about, they will become your friends and comrades. In the harsh prison environment bonds will be forged that can last a lifetime. Your problems will come from the system, and from the screws, particularly if you're a person of integrity. From the very first moment you enter prison your principles, your sense of selfhood, and your very humanity will be under attack. If you are to survive unbroken, you must resist all attempts to turn you into a numbered, subjugated, compliant piece of jail-fodder, a 'Stepford Prisoner' who has had their spine and brain removed. You are, after all, not just an individual, but a member of a movement, and those that come after you will be judged by how you behave.

Unfortunately, for those of you entering prison today, the level of political consciousness among British prisoners is at the lowest point for many years. Divide and rule scams like the loathsome 'Incentives and Earned Privileges' scheme have undermined solidarity, and in-cell TVs and heroin have helped a culture of selfishness to develop. You will hear people come out with things like, "I can't afford to get involved" or "I've done my bit" or "I just want to get out." Ignore these wankers, they're just trying to justify their own cowardice. Everybody wants to get out of these rotten places, but how do you want to get out - on your feet or on your knees? Resistance and solidarity will always exist within prisons, and if you have anything about you at all, your place is with that resistance, not with the grovellers and forelock-tuggers who shit on their fellow cons in the foolish belief that they can make a comfortable life for themselves in here.

Prison Receptions, the entry point into any jail (unless you go straight to the punishment block - the segregation unit), have changed a lot since the days when you were very likely to be met with a beating, but they are still inevitably an unpleasant experience. It is here that your prison file will be opened, that you will be given a number, where strangers will begin to address you by your surname only, where others will decide what clothes you can wear and what possessions you can have, and where you will receive your first strip-search. It is in Reception that the battle begins.

The first Prison Reception I was ever in was at Canterbury in 1980. There were certainly worse places back then, but there were still some vicious screws working there. In every nick in the country they used to read you a little speech at Reception, part of which went, "You will call all prison officers 'Sir'." So it didn't take long for my first confrontation to come, I would not, and will not, be forced to call anyone 'Sir'. Nor was I prepared to substitute 'boss' or 'guv'nor' as was acceptable in some prisons. Like a lot of principles it's ostensibly a small thing, it would be so easy to compromise, especially when almost everyone else does, but what are we without principles? Once you start abandoning them for the sake of convenience, who's to say where it will end? I remember a few years ago when I was forced onto a blanket protest at Durham. Having failed to intimidate and bully me into putting on the prison clothes, the screws tried persuasion - "You're alone down here in the punishment block, away from your mates, nobody will even know you've put them on." But I'd have known, and the screws would have known, and that was enough.

Today there's no longer an obligation to call your captors 'Sir', and many nicks no longer require you to wear prison clothes, but your integrity will still be tested, and you will have to struggle to retain it. Relinquish it, and I imagine prison will have far more of a lasting effect on you than if you spend the whole of your sentence in the block.

Screws often behave like playground bullies and when you come into a new nick, they'll try it on to see how much they can get away with. A classic example is to try to get you to 'squat' or bend over during a strip-search - tell them to fuck off. Every prison has its own rules about what you can and can't have, and they change constantly, but if you know you're getting sent down you can still try to be prepared. Often, little can be sent in after you're imprisoned, so have anything you need and might be able to have with you. Most prisons allow you to wear your own training shoes these days, so get yourself a good sturdy pair. Prisoners generally wear sports clothes, which are easily cared for, avoid black and dark blue colours which aren't always allowed, and go for cotton fabrics that will survive the prison laundry. A radio or small stereo will be useful, as will one or two books, and some basic stationery. A watch is more or less essential, ideally get one that doesn't require batteries, is tough and waterproof (so you can wear it in the shower), but not unduly expensive or ostentatious. While highly desirable, food and drink and toiletries won't be allowed. If you smoke (and it's a big advantage not to), you may be permitted to keep a small amount of tobacco. Make sure you have cash with you, so that you can buy phonecards and other items you need from the prison shop.

There was a time when every cell contained a copy of the prison rules, and prisoners were required to read them. Now the prison authorities generally do their best to keep them secret, because they are so regularly broken. You will find it useful to consult the Prison Rules and Standing Orders, which outline your few rights and entitlements, and they should be available in the prison library. The Prison Service also publishes its own information booklets, but the contents are very selective. If you have difficulty getting hold of a copy of the rules, or think you are not getting what you're entitled to, as regards diet or exercise for example, either contact your solicitor or the Prisoners Advice Service at the address given elsewhere in this section. Prisoners' letters are generally censored, and so have to be handed in or posted with the envelopes unsealed. However, you may write to a solicitor or the Prisoners Advice Service in confidence under Prison Rule 39. Contrary to what you may be told, you do not have to allow a member of staff to seal the envelope for you, and if you do not have stamps you can ask for a 'Special Letter', which should be sent at public expense. Simply seal the envelope, write your name and 'Rule 39' on the back, and hand it in or post it in the box provided.

There is a good deal of variation in prison architecture, from the ancient cathedrals of human misery to the stark modern control-units. The accommodation parts of prisons are known as 'wings' or 'houseblocks', and they generally have cells on 'landings' or 'spurs' on more than one level, known as 'the ones', 'the twos' etc. Most modern prison cells are approximately 7ft x 11ft, but some are a good deal smaller, and in some prisons each cell may contain 2, or even 3 prisoners. Personally, I am not prepared to share a space that small with another person, and if necessary will opt for a single cell in the block. Prisoners are having to spend more time locked in their cells than for many years, but you should not be 'banged up' for more than 23 hours at a time.

Prison really is a bizarre institution to come into, and it'll take you a while to get used to it. Humans are an adaptable species though, and within a few weeks you'll probably find you're cracking on like an old lag. If you're on remand though, this can be a time when you fuck up, and it's something I always warn people about. Time is different in jail and particularly when you're first locked up, a couple of days can seem like a month. It's a harsh environment, and you'll be spending a lot of time with the same people. Many of these will turn out to be good friends, but always try to bear in mind that in reality, you've known them for days or weeks, not years, and that not everyone in jail tells the truth about themselves. In particular, be wary about discussing the details of your case with those you hardly know - too many people wind up in court with former cell-mates giving evidence against them. Also be careful about giving out your home address or personal details until you know your new friends a lot better.

There's a thousand scams and tricks in jail - cons are extremely inventive people and are always one step ahead of the screws. As you pick up your jail-craft, you'll learn everything from how to pass a cigarette from one end of the wing to the other, how to make prison 'hooch' without yeast, how to make weapons out of next to nothing, how to defeat electronic door systems, how to make a cup of tea without a kettle, and all sorts of other survival skills. When you first get locked up, you'll doubt that you could last more than week in this environment, but in all likelihood you will, and will even share in the gallows humour endemic to this otherwise joyless existence.

The human spirit can flourish and triumph in the face of the darkest adversity, but I'm not going to tell you that prisons are anything other than utterly rotten places, particularly for those of us who have to endure year after year of long-term imprisonment. Prison kills you physically and psychologically - it's a living death, like being buried alive. I once read about a Native American woman who suddenly woke up from a coma as if from sleep. She wanted to know where her husband and her children were, but she'd been unconscious so long her husband had remarried and her children grown up. It's a tragic story, but at least she didn't have the slow torture of having to watch, helpless, as her life slipped away from her, together with everything she cared about. That's how it is for most long-term prisoners, and many lose their families, homes, jobs, savings, and possessions even before their cases come to trial. Hang onto your integrity, because when the system's finished with you and spits you back out on the street, it may be all you have left.

But hey, nobody said it was going to be easy - if it was easy they wouldn't call it 'struggle' would they? As political activists we're the lucky ones in here, given a rare opportunity to get inside the machine and act like a virus. As an activist, you're not locked up to take a holiday - there's a real struggle to be fought in here, so keep militant and get involved...
By Mark Barnsley, Whitemoor Prison, England

More notes on surviving prison
Britain has the largest prison population per capita in Europe and if the government has its way it'll carry on growing! More and more people are likely to do time for crimes they did or didn't commit, partly because the state is always creating more + more laws that we can break, especially laws criminalising political protest. The fear of prison is one of the state's ultimate deterrents to stifle dissent and protect the ruling classes from the wrath and poverty of the masses. This deterrent only works as effectively as we are fearful of it, and this is an attempt to dispel some of the fears and myths that surround prison.

Experiences of prison can vary greatly from person to person and from prison to prison. Obviously there's a big difference between a short stay and a long stretch, not so much on the experience while there but mentally it can be harder to remain unaffected, and will take longer to re-adjust to the outside world as it will have changed more, and old skills will have to be remembered. Being in prison on remand can be mentally and emotionally taxing, because of the uncertainty regarding length of sentence, and the stress of an approaching court case, etc. Women's prisons are also quite different, not only are you likely to be further from friends and family because of the scarcity of women’s' prisons but my women are in for gender/poverty related in a way that men aren't, basically because most coppers/judges are male chauvinists. Category ‘A’ prisoners (high security) also have less privileges than Category ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’ respectively. It should be remembered worldwide, British prisons have a reputation for being soft compared to elsewhere especially outside of Europe.

If you know in advance that you're going to be going inside it's helpful to talk to others with experience of prison. It's good to tie up any loose ends regarding family, housing, money, support before you go in. Also get a few good reading books together!

This section is aimed mostly at those who do time for political 'crimes' or crimes(?) of conscience although it can apply to anyone. Some political activists see going to prison as a natural extension of direct action. Political prisoners have the advantage of being part of a wider movement, which can offer practical support and boost moral. Having a good understanding of why you are there can give a degree of inner strength, calm and confidence and so from this perspective prison can be an empowering experience, and can also be somewhat amusing at times as well!

Most folk on knowing they're about to go down have a flood of varied emotions and/or passing attacks of anxiety and fear. It can feel like the whole weight of the world is falling upon your head.

with the threat of prison hanging over my head I try and find out as much as I possibly can about the prison I am likely to be sent to... I worry about what the other prisoners are like; will I fit in? How much stuff I can take with me? Will I be on my own or sharing? When I arrive different questions become a problem: where do I go to eat, to shower, where is everything, this place is big. After you come out of prison, take a holiday, or rest, to give yourself time to adjust to being out again and having space to move about. Give yourself time and tell others how you are feeling.
"Prisons and prison experiences vary enormously.. the first time I went to a British prison was one of the most hellish weeks of my life: I was beaten up by the guards, denied a vegan diet, taken before the governor three times (and threatened with everything from the punishment block to the psychiatric wing) and put in a cell with someone in for murder and someone in for manslaughter. In contrast, much of my five months in another prison was a leisurely rest - badminton, jogging, table tennis, evening classes, my own cell, passable vegan food, friendly enough screws

I had sort of expected I was going to prison and actually felt quite prepared and calm. As the prison van pulled up at the gates I felt a strange sort of excitement mixed with a bit of nervousness and uncertainty. I found it fairly easy to settle in after the initial 'crikey! I'm in prison' type feelings. Getting used to the regime can be a bit hard - so many rules. When your life is totally in the hands of authoritarians you just have to adapt and get used to it, and know that they can’t confine your thoughts or hold your true freedom. It's important to use the time well with things to focus your mind. There lots of potential for self development and learning from people of different backgrounds. I really benefited from doing lots of meditation and tai chi, which helped me keep calm, especially when dealing with some of the screws who would try and draw me into confrontation because of my beliefs

However the reality is a lot easier than the fears, and when you start meeting the other cons you realise most of them are just ordinary enough people brought here by unfortunate circumstances, rather than the social monsters the government and media would have you believe. Obviously there are some nutters but they aren’t that common, and let’s face it there are plenty of nutters on the outside as well! Very few people are looking for a fight because that can mean time in solitary and less parole, so if you're not looking for trouble you're unlikely to find it. If you try and act hard, someone's going to challenge you, so just be yourself and be calmly confident, and, keep a good sense of humour!

Political prisoners tend to get a fair bit of respect in prison, if not a few strange looks for having somewhat alien beliefs. Most trouble in prison is over drugs and addictions (including tobacco) and bullying to get them when personal supplies run low (the prison shop's only open once/twice a week and everyone's skint anyway)... Time to give up? Sometimes, especially if it's obviously your first time inside, you may find yourself challenged in some way by other prisoners, as a kind of test of strength which as long as you stand your ground in a calm but confident manner, will generally pass off without incident. Backing down to any threats or bullying leaves you wide open for abuse and bullying later if you become seen as an easy victim, so stand your ground. It's pretty similar to school playground philosophy really.

An open mind and a bit of common respect can go a long way in prison meeting half-way the many different lives, experiences and expectations that you'll meet there. It can be a time of 1earning and an insight into the inner workings of Babylon, both in the oppressive and overly bureaucratic organisation of prison and in the inmates themselves, most of whom are in for some kind of poverty (class) related crime. Prison can be a lonely place, it is designed to isolate. Communication and solidarity is essential, both with other inmates and with the outside world as well. Political prisoners usually get a lot of support correspondence from the wider movement, this gives a big boost to morale and in some cases can be a lifeline (make sure they know you're there - see contacts below) It also makes a prisoner feel less anonymous, less of a number in a system to be pushed about.

Adapting to prison regime can be strange (if not interesting)... it's a culture unto itself- so many new rules and regulations, new behaviour norms, respective routines, social hierarchies, different language. You can expect some overcrowding, frustrating and irritating levels of noise and distraction and little personal space or privacy. It may be difficult to sleep properly, radios blaring, bars, loud arguments etc. Food will be starchy and dull. You will learn to wait...for a phone call, a shower, a meal, the answer to a question even the time of day. Time can become distorted, days will slip by but each hour could seem like an eternity. Focusing your mind on something like a campaign, reading, studying, drawing, yoga etc. can be a great help in dealing with the monotony and stresses of prison life.

Different diets can be catered for upon request although you are only guaranteed a vegan diet if you're a member of the Vegan society before getting sent down. Some progress has been made recently on getting GMO-free diets, although such decisions (as are most decisions regarding personal welfare) are at the arbitrary discretion of the individual prison Governor. Visits and the sending of books, money stereos, what you can and can't send in/out varies greatly from prison to prison so check with the Prison Visitor Centre concerned. The screws are generally alright, if not a bit uptight, with a predisposition towards having authoritarian fantasies. Their prime concern is to preserve order through obedience and submission. However you don't have to indulge them in this fantasy and as long as you don't take the piss they generally leave you alone. Let them be responsible for keeping order while you stay responsible for keeping your conscience.

A sense of humour goes a long way in dealing with the daily routine of being inside, and a smile can disarm all but the meanest screws and cons. Sometimes it's hard not to laugh at those in authority when they take themselves far too seriously especially if their authority and power in not having the desired effect on you. Just because your body is behind bars doesn't mean you've got turn in your conscience or convictions with all your other belongings at the gate. Whether in prison or not, the freedom we enjoy is the freedom we claim for ourselves, and while the body can be incarcerated the spirit is as free as it wishes. Being in prison can be an incredibly empowering experience by bringing this message home.

When you come out, give yourself time to adjust. If you've been in for a while, take it easy, it can take a while to psychologically adjust to looking after yourself again - cooking, cleaning, socialising. Tell friends how you're feeling and above all keep smiling, ‘cos there’s nothing you can't laugh at...
From the UHC Collective website

Notes on this text
The first part of this guide is taken and edited from an article "Preparing for Prison" by Mark Barnsley, from Whitemoor Prison, England written for Do or Die. We are glad to say that at the time of printing Mark Barnsley is now out of prison. Prisons Mark Barnsley has been in are:
HMP Canterbury (x3), HMP Maidstone (x2), Ashford Remand Centre (x2), HMP Wormwood Scrubs (x5), HMP Armley (x3), HMP Hull (x2), Wolds Remand Centre, HMP Doncaster (x2), HMP Lincoln, HMP Full Sutton (x3), HMP Brixton, HMP Wolds, HMP Garth, HMP Durham, HMP Long Lartin, HMP Cardiff, HMP Woodhill (x2), HMP Parkhurst, HMP Wakefield (x2), HMP Frankland, HMP Whitemoor.

The second part is edited from the article "Surviving prison" from the UHC Collective website.

Edited by, last reviewed 2006

Prisoner support guide

A guide to providing support to prisoners in UK jails, from letter-writing and visits to sending reading materials and more.

Adopt a prisoner
If you’re active in a group or campaign why not choose one or two prisoners to consistently support. Pass cards round meetings, send useful stuff, knock up a flyposter and get their case some publicity if they could use it, get in touch with the prisoner’s support group if there is one. Of course you can take this on as an individual, too.

Starting out
Since practice and procedure varies considerably from prison to prison and is liable to change in each prison, it is impossible to provide a template of procedures that will cover all cases. What can be done from experience is to put down a few pointers and pose a set of questions that those undertaking the support will need to address.

Firstly, it may be necessary to find out what the prison rules are about:

- Visits
- What can and cannot be sent in
- Property
- Money
- What the scope is for the prisoner to communicate outwards
- Arrangements for release and travel warrants.

If things are reasonable the prisoner will be able to get that information to you but you can also phone the prison and ask. There is no harm in developing contacts within the prison officialdom as that may have long term benefits.

Writing to prisoners/sending things
Prison is isolation, so contact with the outside world, letting a prisoner know s/he is not forgotten, helps break this down. Sometimes just a friendly card can boost their morale. Writing for the first time to a complete stranger can be awkward. A card with some well wishes, a bit about who you are and asking what you can do to help is often enough. Don’t expect prisoners to write back. Sometimes, the number of letters they can receive/write is restricted, or they just might not be very good a writing back. To help, include a couple of stamps or, if writing abroad, International Reply Coupons (IRC’s) that you can get from any post office. Write on clean paper and don’t re-use envelopes. Remember a return address, also on the envelope.

Ask what the prisoner can have sent to them, as this varies from prison to prison. Books and pamphlets usually have to be sent from a recognised distributor/bookshop/publisher (ask at a friendly bookshop). Tapes, videos, writing pads, zines, toiletries and postal orders are some of the things you might be able to send. Newspapers can often be provided (usually by a local newsagent recognised by the prison). Food just gets eaten by screws.

Other countries have their own rules, so check with the prisoner themselves before trying to send anything to them - it might be a waste of your money and could, if what you send is considered to be contraband, have adverse effects on the prisoner themselves.

There is also a prisoner e-mailing service, which now covers most prisons in the UK (check here for which nicks). It only costs 35p, cheaper than snail mail (though there is a 2500 characters and 50 lines maximum per message) and many prisons also allow you to pay 20p up front for the contactee to email you a reply (check here for those locations). Give it a try.

The same organisation also has a Secure Payment Services system as an alternate for sending money to prisoners. However, they charge a 20% fee for each transaction, so stick with the cheaper option of a cheque or the slightly more expensive (but more anonymous) option of a postal order [see above].

Remember that all letters are opened and looked through so don’t write stuff that could endanger anyone – this doesn’t mean you should be over paranoid and write one meaningless comment on the weather after the other. Be prepared to share a bit of your life to brighten up someone’s on the inside.

e.g. We received a letter from Herman Wallace, after sending him a card from the group. He said:

It is quite essential that I take out a moment to express my gratitude to all the wonderful folk who sent me so much love & support in this one card. I am really touched by the intensity of energy from this card and I just had to stand up from my seat and smile. Thankyou. Right now, in spite of my repressive condition you guys have made me feel GREAT!

Protest letters
Petitioning Tony Blair asking him to stop being a capitalist bastard might well be futile. But writing letters to relevant places requesting something realistic such as an appeal, transfer, vegan food etc on behalf of a prisoner can help improve their chances. Prisoners who seem to be ‘in the public eye’ do tend to be treated better.

Remember too that each prison will have a Visiting Committee and at least one Chaplain, plus a Quaker visitor. These can be most useful allies in getting over any communication difficulties and helping if there are problems. The prison will provide you with names and contacts.

Other support
There is so much more than can be done, up to you and your imagination and your contact with a prisoner, such as publicity for their case, financial support, pickets of prisons, helping them get a mobile phone, any legal support issues to be dealt with, such as getting documents, research, liaison with lawyers etc.…

Edited and added to by from two articles from the UHC Collective website. The above information matches that on the Brighton ABC site.

NYC Anarchist Black Cross letter-writing guide:

Writing a letter to a political prisoner or prisoner of war is a concrete way to support those imprisoned for their political struggles.

A letter is a simple way to brighten someone’s day in prison by creating human interaction and communication–something prisons attempt to destroy. Beyond that, writing keeps prisoners connected to the communities and movements of which they are a part, allowing them to provide insights and stay up to date.

Writing to prisoners is not charity, as we on the outside have as much to gain from these relationships as the prisoners. Knowing the importance of letter writing is crucial. Prisons are very lonely, isolating, and disconnected places. Any sort of bridge from the outside world is greatly appreciated.

With that in mind, avoid feeling intimidated, especially about writing to someone you do not know. And if possible try and be a consistent pen pal.

For many, the first line of the first letter is difficult to write–there is uncertainty and intimidation that come with it. Never fret, it’s just a letter.

For the first letter, it’s best to offer an introduction, how you heard about the prisoner, a little about yourself. Tell stories, write about anything you are passionate about–movement work and community work are great topics until you have a sense of the prisoner’s interests outside of political organizing.

And what we hear from prisoners time and time again is to include detail. Prison is so total that the details of life on the outside become distant memories. Smells, textures, sounds of the street all get grayed out behind bars. That’s not to say that you should pen a stream-of-consciousness novel.

For things you should and should not remember when writing to folks, read GUIDELINES.

You cannot enclose glitter or write with glittery gel pens or puff paint pens. Some prisons do not allow cards or letters that include permanent marker, crayon, or colored pencils and it is best to check with the prisoner beforehand. That said, it is usually best to write in standard pencil or non-gel pen in blue or black ink.

You cannot include articles or anything else torn out of a newspaper or magazine. However, you can print that same article from the internet or photocopy it and write your letter on the other side.

You cannot include polaroid pictures (though these days, that’s not much of an issue), but you can include regular photographs. Some prisoners are limited to the number of photos they can have at any given time, so again, check with the prisoner before sending a stack of photos.

If mailing more than a letter, clearly write the contents of the envelope/package. Label it “CONTENTS” and include a full list.

A couple of technical details– make sure you include your return address inside the letter as well as on the envelope. It’s common for prisoners to receive letters without the envelope.

Make sure to paginate– number each page, such as 1 of 3, 2 of 3, et cetera. This insures that if pages of your letter don’t make it to the prisoner, they will know it.

Be careful about making promises and only commit to what you are certain you can do. This should go without saying, but it’s not a good idea to make commitments to someone you don’t have a relationship with. If you can’t maintain a correspondence, let them know up front. Conversely, if you want to maintain an ongoing correspondence, let them know that as well.

If you are writing to someone who is pre-trial, don’t ask questions about their case. Discussing what a prisoner is alleged to have done can easily come back to haunt them during their trial or negotiations leading up to it.

Don’t valorize the person you are writing. Keep in mind that these are folks coming from the same movements and communities that you are. They aren’t looking for adoration, but rather to maintain correspondence.

Finally, do not write anything you wouldn’t want Fox News, a cop, or a judge to see. Assume that intelligence and law enforcement agencies are reading your letter. On a related note, this advice goes for any snail mail, e-mail, texting, messaging, or talking that takes place in known activist spaces or homes. This is not legal advice, just basic movement survival common sense (to review, read STAYING SAFE).

You never have to, and it is never a good idea to talk to police, FBI, ICE, or any other law enforcement agent or investigator. Other than providing your name and address to a police officer who is investigating a crime, you never have to talk. You will not outsmart them by talking or sound less suspicious by talking or make things easier for yourself by talking. Anything you say will be used against you and others. If they catch you in a lie or inconsistency they can charge you with a separate crime.

Say: I have nothing to say to you OR I need a lawyer present to continue this conversation. If they come to your home, workplace, or school, ask them for a card and tell them your attorney will be in contact with them.

The FBI may threaten you with a grand-jury subpoena for not talking. It doesn’t matter because they were probably going to subpoena you anyway and you weren’t going to talk anyway.

If you receive a grand jury subpoena you should contact a lawyer immediately and let others in your community know. People can be held for up to 18 months (potentially longer) for refusing to talk to grand juries. Even so, for our own survival, it is imperative that we take that risk and do not participate in grand juries as they are used to indict political prisoners and prisoners of war.

In the federal legal system, the grand jury is used to decide whether someone should be charged (“indicted”) for a serious crime. The grand jury hears evidence presented by the prosecutor: the U.S. Attorney. The grand jury uses subpoenas to gather this evidence. It can subpoena documents, physical evidence, and witnesses to testify. The “special” federal grand jury, created in 1970, can be used to investigate “possible” organized criminal activity rather than a specific crime.

Currently there is more than one active grand jury in new york city. There are also more than likely informants and agent provocateurs infiltrating anarchist communities here.

It is imperative that we continue our work as anarchists including the support of political prisoners and prisoners of war towards the abolition of the state, of capitalism, and of all oppression.

It is also imperative that we do so in a way that is smart, strategic, and sustainable.

It's Going Down guide to writing to prisoners:

Not too long ago we hosted a small letter writing night amongst friends. It wasn’t a public event, just friends getting together over some food and writing letters to our anarchist comrades who have been stolen by the State. While we’ve been in the thick of prisoner support work for more than ten years, it was a huge surprise to learn how many of our friends had never written someone inside prison. At all.

This got us thinking about how maybe there has been a shift of some kind amongst anarchists. We are meeting less and less anarchists who have made prisoner support an integral part of their revolutionary praxis. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water folks! Prisoner support is a vital part of our movements and our culture. When the State steals away one of our comrades it is paramount that we continue to engage with them, keeping them involved in our movement as much as possible. They’re inside there for us and we are outside for them. We have to mean this and we have to back it up.

We know that letters are an absolute lifeline for those held inside the cages. What fewer people anticipate is how much it benefits us out here to do this work. Being involved in prisoner support has greatly impacted the work that we do at It’s Going Down, in our cities and with our crews. Having relationships with people inside has strengthened our organizing capacities in ways we couldn’t have anticipated. Being connected to other anarchists engaged in prisoner support has also helped us in building strong relationships and networks across North America. Did we hard sell this enough to you yet?

We wanted to share some brief prisoner letter writing tips for getting started, borrowed from Water Protector Anti-Repression Crew and their tour zine The Frontlines Are Everywhere. We also encourage you to check out the NYC ABC Illustrated Guide to Political Prisoners & Prisoners of War for regularly updated prisoner listings. Gather up these tips, a copy of that guide, maybe a Political Prisoner Birthday Poster, make some cards, invite some friends over and write some letters together!

Getting Started and Keep Each Other Safe

Writing to prisoners is one of the most important aspects of support. Letters from relatives, comrades and new friends is a lifeline for those inside and provides connection to the outside world. One of the hardest things for many prisoners to cope with is the feeling of isolation – being cut off from friends and family and everything they know in their lives on the outside. Prison and jail are designed to be isolating, but communication from the outside can cut through isolation and remind those inside that they are never alone.

In many cases, contact from the outside lets the prison authorities know that there are people on the outside who care and are monitoring the situation. For example, religious freedoms and special dietary requirements (halal, kosher, vegan, etc) are more likely to be adhered to if a prisoner is obviously not forgotten.

Here are some important reminders for you prior to writing your letter to prisoners:

● Every letter is potentially read by the guards, so don’t write anything that might incriminate yourself or others. Do not write about illegal activities. The rule of thumb here is don’t put anything in a letter that you wouldn’t say to directly to the police.

● Remember that some prisoners are pre-trial, which means that beyond their mail be generally monitored, it can be entered into evidence against them.

● These are political prisoners and you should obviously let them know you support their politics, but don’t start praising them as heroes. “Hero letters,” can add to the State’s repressive tactics and help label people as “leaders.” If someone is caught up for a political action they probably don’t want to be seen as martyrs – they’re just normal people, so write to them like normal people rather than fawning! Human connection is more important than heroism.

● Don’t EVER promise things you can’t deliver. Whether you’re promising books, commissary money, et cetera – breaking promises to someone inside is not in line with supporting them.

● Political literature – be careful! Unless the prisoner asks for it, avoid sending any overly contentious political material in as it can potentially cause them issues with the prison. There’s no problem sending this kind of thing as long as you ask the prisoner first and always respect their wishes!

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some common questions people have about writing to those in prison or jail:

What should I write them?

Starting your first letter can feel difficult, especially if you are writing to someone you don’t already have a relationship with. You may be worried that what you write might sound stupid, or make the prisoner feel worse, or you simply can’t think of anything. Of course if the prisoner is your relative or friend then this part is easy, but what about a total stranger? You can simply start by telling them about yourself, what you do, what you’re into, where you got their address and so on. This breaks the ice and also make a reply easier. Apart from that, just fill a side of paper with whatever you can think of – a hike you took, a tender moment you saw at the park between a mother and child, the last movie you saw, or pretty much anything!

Most prisoners that we know have commented that while robust political discussions are great, so are letters about Harry Potter books or space exploration or poetry! The point being that these folks are dynamic humans with varied interests and parts of themselves they’d probably like to share while in a place that is designed to strip them of their humanity.

I’m not sure I can manage a full letter…

That is okay! A quick message of support on a postcard can still really brighten up someone’s day. Try taking a card to a meeting, a family gathering or a protest where everyone can sign it

How do I make sure my letter gets in?

Make sure to write the prisoner’s full name and prisoner ID number on the envelope. Put your name and address at the top of the letter and on the top left corner. You can use a pen name if you’ve got any reservations, but bear in mind this is what the prisoner will see if they’re going to write you a reply. Some prisons will refuse to accept letters with “care of‟ or PO Box addresses so it’s best to use a street address. Some prisons have rules forbidding certain imagery (e.g. gang symbols being banned from US prisons) and this may encompass political symbols as well. Different facilities have different rules, so call the prison or jail if you aren’t sure if something can be mailed in. Typically you cannot send pictures drawn with anything other than markers, Polaroid photos, or cards that have glue or glitter on them

What about getting a reply?

Remember that you’re doing this to support the prisoner, not to acquire a new pen-pal – although the two often go hand-in-hand! You may not get a reply for several reasons: obviously the prisoner might not have received your letter or they might be getting a lot of mail (if they’re fortunate enough), so they may not have time to reply to everyone. They may be limited in the number of letters they can write by the prison authorities and prefer to prioritize relatives and close friends. They may not have access to sufficient writing materials or stamps, they may have been moved, or they may simply not be very good at writing letters. Regardless, don’t be put out if there’s no reply and don’t let this deter you from continuing to write. Keep sending postcards and letters!

Can I send anything else in?

The golden rule here is to ask the prisoner if you’ve got any doubts. You can always try contacting the prison, asking to speak to the mail-room or an administrator about what items are approved by the facility. If you feel that the prison or jail staff is not being truthful or is misleading you, a common tactic of repression by the institution, ask if they have a copy of their inmate handbook or mail regulations for you to review. These are often available online, but not always. The rules vary widely between different prisons and are sometimes baffling or nonsensical.

If you send anything in, clearly write at the top of your letter what you’ve enclosed as this lessens the chances of guards taking items without the prisoners knowledge. Generally, books have to be from a publisher, although the guards get to decide which publishers are “legitimate.” Some people get around this by sending books from an Amazon account, which many guards accept as “legitimate.” Many prisoners have Amazon book wish lists that have been set up from which you can mail something directly. Guards may withhold some literature on the grounds of content, it all depends on which guard is looking through the mail any given day. Sometimes books or zines get through just fine, other times a prisoner never receives them.

Ready to get started? Check out this list of political prisoners here from NYC Anarchist Black Cross (ABC).

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Starting an Anarchist Black Cross – A Guide

This handy guide covers tips and suggestions for organizing an Anarchist Black Cross (ABC) chapter, including suggestions on fundraising, days of solidarity, and beyond.


This zine is a resource for anyone wanting to start an Anarchist Black Cross group. It was a collective effort of people from various ABC groups across Europe. We hope you find it inspiring and useful.

The past several decades we have witnessed various forms of crisis emerging all over the globe and while resisting and fighting back, we as anarchists are paying close attention to the changing patterns and tactics of state repression. To save the status quo and powers-that be they divide and rule. They co-opt struggles and pacify subversive movements. Meanwhile, we are striving to break free.

We need to destroy all the prisons, and free all the prisoners. Our position is an abolitionist stance against the state and it’s prisons. Of course, the only easy solutions to such a complex problem like prisons are the false solutions. But abolition is not a simple answer nor an easy solution. It is a long way to go. That is why exactly we are talking about the Anarchist Black Cross and not liberal, statist or reformist ways of organising. Our tactics are based upon sharing and solidarity, not charity. More than ever, it is critically important to share the knowledge and organisational tips with people that want to take action. That is why we wrote this zine: shared knowledge is an important tool in fighting against repression. The best defense against repression is preparation. We hope this zine can support you to organise where you are and build more resilience to repression in your movements and struggles for liberation. If you would like support or have questions about this zine please email: tillallarefree at

What is The Anarchist Black Cross and Why Does It Exist?

The Anarchist Black Cross is an international network of anarchist groups and individuals engaged in practical solidarity with prisoners and broader anti-repression struggles.

Prisoner Support

We support revolutionaries, anarchists and others trapped in the prison system. We support and publicise prisoners’ efforts to organise and resist the system from the inside. We try to work through letters, visits, material aid, as well as demonstrations, campaigns and spreading information about prisoners, the reality of prisons and the class system which created them. Fundraising and material support is a key part of our work. Many of us also support prisoners and those affected by repression emotionally, with friendship and solidarity as our weapons. In all of what we do, we try to create links in and out of prisons.

Anti-Repression and Movement Defence Work

The state and those that wish to destroy movements for liberation attack us on many levels. The Anarchist Black Cross network aims to build the infrastructure to be resilient to repression so that we can continue fighting for liberation and support comrades harmed by this state violence. Many groups organise ongoing long-term solidarity campaigns with those affected by various waves of repression across the world. Indeed, many ABC groups start in response to a repressive operation in their region.

Movement and community defence can involve many things. The Anarchist Black Cross has been engaged in diverse forms over decades – from legal defence campaigns and committees, to maintaining physical solidarity against the police during factory and school occupations, performing roles of security and physical defence against white supremacist and neo-fascist attacks, as well as engaging in armed defence of social movements. ABC groups also often organise workshops, zines and other material to support people to learn about repression, security culture and solidarity.

The Anarchist Black Cross exists to strengthen struggles for freedom and liberation by providing mental, emotional, material, and physical support to individual, groups, communities and movements. Ultimately, we want to help ensure the strength of our movements from the inside out. We want to support struggles to be a threat to state, capitalist, white supremacist, patriarchal power and other forms of domination.
The History of the Anarchist Black Cross

The Anarchist Black Cross Federation in the United States have written an overview of the history of ABC which we have shared below:

Since the beginning of the Twentieth Century, the Anarchist Black Cross (ABC), has been on the frontline in supporting those imprisoned for struggling for freedom and liberty. Until recently, the history of the ABC movement has been lost to the pages of time. The present generation of ABC collectives were left rootless with little known information about this organisation. Now, specific questions regarding our origin can now be put to rest. We have now begun to rediscover our roots.

The year of origin has been a nagging question regarding the history of the Anarchist Black Cross, also known as the Anarchist Red Cross (ARC). According to Rudolph Rocker, once the treasurer for the Anarchist Red Cross in London, the organisation was founded during the “hectic period between 1900 and 1905.” Despite his involvement in the early stages, we do not feel these dates are very accurate. According to Harry Weinstein, one of the two men who began the organisation, it began after his arrest in July or August of 1906. Once released, Weinstein and others provided clothing to anarchists sentenced to exile in Siberia. This was the early stages of the ARC. He continued his efforts in Russia until his arrival in New York in May of 1907. Once he arrived, he helped to create the New York Anarchist Red Cross.

Other accounts place the year origin in 1907. During June and August of 1907, Anarchists and Socialist Revolutionaries gather together in London for two conferences. It is believed that Vera Figner, a Socialist Revolutionary, met with Anarchists to discuss the plight of the political prisoners in Russia. After this meeting, the Anarchist Red Cross organized in London and in New York. In addition to this information, we do know that members of the organisation were on trial in 1906-1907 in Russia. Therefore, We feel the most accurate date of origin for the Anarchist Red Cross would be late 1906- early 1907 for the Russia section; June or August 1907 for the creation of the International section.

However, the reason for the creation of the Anarchist Red Cross is not in dispute. It was formed after breaking away from the Political Red Cross (PRC). The PRC was controlled by the Social Democrats and refused to provide support to Anarchist and Social Revolutionary Political Prisoners, despite continued donations from other Anarchists and Social Revolutionaries. As one former Political Prisoner and member of the Anarchist Red Cross stated,“In some prisons there was little distinction made between Anarchists and other Political Prisoners, but in others Anarchists were refused any help.”

The newly formed ARC considered these actions criminal and vowed that any prison where Anarchists were in the majority, the ARC would provide support to all Anarchist and Social Revolutionaries Political Prisoners.

Because of their support for Political Prisoners, members of the group were arrested, tortured and killed by the Tsarist regime. The organisation was deemed illegal and membership was reason enough for arrest and imprisonment in Artvisky Prison, one of the worst hard labor jails in Siberia. ARC members and prisoners who managed to escape from prison fled from Russia creating chapters in London, New York, Chicago and other cities in Europe and North America.

The 1917 Revolution caused a celebration throughout the Socialist, Anarchist, and Communists communities. The ARC liquidated and members began to make plans to return to Russia in hopes of participating in the new society. Sadly, their return was met by Bolsheviks repression, similar to that of the Tsarist era. After a few years of hibernation, the group was forced to resurface to assist the Political Prisoners in the new Bolshevik society. Once again the organisation was made illegal and membership meant imprisonment and/or death.

During the Russian Civil War, the ARC’s name changed to the Anarchist Black Cross to avoid confusion with the International Red Cross, also organising relief in the country. It was also during this period that the organisation organized self-defence units against political raids by the Cossack and Red armies.

During the next 7 decades the group would continue under various different names but has always considered itself part of the Anarchist Red Cross/ Anarchist Black Cross formation. ABC’s support for Political Prisoners spread to the four corners of the globe. What was once a typically Russian-Jewish organisation, now had many faces and ethnicities.

During the 1960s, the Anarchist Black Cross was reformed in Britain by Stuart Christie and Albert Meltzer with a focus on providing aid for anarchist prisoners in Francisco Franco’s Spain. The reason for this was Christie’s experience of the Spanish State’s jail and the importance of receiving food parcels. At that time there were no international groups acting for Spanish anarchist and Resistance prisoners. The first action of the re-activated group was to bring Miguel García García, whom Christie met in prison, out of Spain on his release. He went on to act as the group’s International secretary, working for the release of others.

In the 80’s, the ABC began to grow and new ABC groups began to emerge in North America. In the United States, the ABC name had been kept alive by a number of completely autonomous groups scattered throughout the country and had grown to support a wide variety of prison issues.

The 1990’s and 2000’s brought several ABC formations in North America (ABCC, ABCN, ABCF). The relationship between these formations has always been considered strenuous. The Break the Chains conference in August 2003, along with side bar discussions between collectives, brought about a better working relationship between the ABCF and ABCN formations. (The ABCC was a short lived formations, dying off in the early 1990s.)

Various ABC groups have also been existing in Europe in different forms for decades.

How do ABC Groups Organise?

There are a lot of different ABC groups around the world. Each of them have autonomy to decide on how the group functions and what are the principles that are in the core of the group. Autonomy and decentralization are helping us to make sure that no group or individual is capable of forcing other groups to do things against the principles of those groups.

To make sure that decisions within the groups are made with consideration of all the members of the group, we encourage everybody to use consensus. Some groups who do not want to practice consensus are choosing to use simple majority or super majority voting. Eventually, it is completely up to you to decide what kind of decision making fits your group. However, it is important to talk it through before hand at the beginning of group formation to avoid misunderstandings with other members of the group

Types of Organising

Depending on the current political situation in different countries, groups can select different types of organising itself, starting from open groups with open membership and ending up with clandestine groups that are known only to the people facing repressions. All types have their pluses and minuses that should be taken in consideration when you start your own group.

Open Group

This type of organising is not often used and is common to liberal democracies, where solidarity work might be not a threat to activists. In this form, the group is open to new members and have processes established to let new willing people join decision making processes.

With an open process, we can bring new passionate people to the work of solidarity without complicated procedures of building up your reputation and earning trust from the movement. With more energy inside of the group, more can be achieved. It is also quite easy to collect money, as real faces presenting the group can earn more trust among people than masked anonymous activists.

As for the negative sides, you can see an easy possibility for police to infiltrate the group and disrupt processes going on inside. Consider this question seriously and how you are going to confront this in case it appears.

Also, it is quite easy to figure out who are the activists of the group and bring the group down by direct repression as membership is transparent.

Semi-Open/Closed group

This is a type of group that only allows trusted or well-known activists inside of the group. These groups might be built from individuals but also members of local anarchist organisations that are aware of upcoming or existing problems.

It might also be decided that membership of the group shouldn’t be exposed to the third people if it is not required. This might help you avoid possible repressions in future, even if risks are minimal at the current stage of state repressions.

The benefit of this group structure is the atmosphere of trust that might push group activity further in different directions. It is harder for the state or capital to disrupt activity of the group. On top of that, many such groups are developing into affinity groups that is hard to do with open groups.

Apart from that, in case of repressions targeting the whole group it will be hard for the state to attack all the members, meaning that semi-open or closed groups have a bigger level of survivability against direct repression.

One of the main negatives of semiopen/closed groups is the bigger dependence on individual members. Due to the complicated procedures of building trust, it might be complicated to find new people to join the group instead of those who have decided to change their activity focus.

It is harder for people to get in touch with the collective in case of repression or some questions connected with upcoming repressions. This can be addressed by building up additional ways of contacting the group. For example, mail that is checked every day, or even one or two people from the group that are known inside of the anarchist circles as activists of ABC.

Organise Locally

Eventually, ABC work is done locally and is heavily connected with the specifics of the region. That’s why, for example, it is quite hard for people from Russia to support activists from Finland and vice versa. We discourage local groups from forming one big group that is covering a big region. We are decentralising our structures and making it hard for the state to hit everyone at once.

However local organisation doesn’t mean isolation. At the same time we are organising together with different groups and learning from each other. Solidarity and support from neighbouring regions or even from distant parts of the world are extremely important for ABC work. We strong decentralised but the real power comes in cooperation.

Decentralisation is also giving us the possibility to go different ways. There are situations where groups were deciding not to support some activists/cases due to political principles, while others were eager to help. This eventually gives autonomy of decision that doesn’t paralyse other activity in contradictory cases.

It might be worth asking close to your group if there are bigger cooperative projects happening between groups in your region. Most probably, there is already! If not – don’t get desperate, there are some groups that prefer working on their own, but it doesn’t mean that everybody is sticking to the same plan. Keep asking and searching and you might find the groups that you will be working with together for years to come.

Don’t get surprised that some groups are more open than the others. Different political situations are building different political profiles, where activists might be suspicious of new groups/people before they figure you out. This is a process that most of us have to go through one way or another to build up networks of trust.

What do ABC Groups do?

To make this section more interesting, we published interviews with ABC organisers from around the world. They share what their different groups have been doing, as well as the highlights and challenges they have experienced.

I got involved in ABC a few months after a close friend was murdered in prison in Texas. I wanted to do something productive with the anger I felt after his death.

Our group do all kinds of stuff, from fundraisers (we have started doing monthly burger nights as one of us is an amazing chef) to letter writing, to demos. It’s important because of how nonjudgemental the approach is – we aren’t looking for “worthy” people to support, but want to show love and solidarity to all people in prison, en route to destroying the prison system altogether.

The group itself keeps me going, because whilst the crew is super on it, they are also super kind and thoughtful. I only hope I can do the same for them!

My advice would be take care of the other people in your crew, and yourself. You have an incredible potential to change so much, so take care of each other.


I joined a new group that formed in Warsaw at the very beginning of 2014 or 15. I already knew about ABC and how it works in Poland but the situation in Warsaw started to be complicated for some activists and there was a need to have a supporting group here. Plus I was sceptical and critical about how support for the the political repressed people looks like and how it could look like. We are doing good. Feeling like this small group of people are very dedicated to this work and we are building good relations in the group step by step.

We are trying as much as it’s possible to skip the way of ‘bureaucracy’ and trying to take an individual decision about individual cases. We are also interested in communicating about the values and political beliefs that this group works on.

I believe this work really needs to be done - that’s my biggest reason for starting in this group and keeping it together in the hard times. I think that we need to build not just network, infrastructure, critiques, resistance but we need to take care of each other at the same time.

I think the biggest challenges for me were:

How to deal with keeping this group open and accessible and working well the same time. How to communicate that you can join it, support it and how to leave a space for different ideas and expressions and not lose the feeling that you know exactly with whom you work with and who should be involved in the decision making process

How to create new way of working in this group in the sense of who you support and how to overcome mechanisms that people already get used to.

I think that the first huge benefit on the new years eve that we made was worth remembering - this was my favourite moment.


I got involved in ABC because I have an inspiring friend who made me aware of the importance of supporting people on the inside “ and I saw how few people give time to it. Our group spend a lot of time fundraising (gigs/ meals/raffles) and then a small amount of time quickly giving that money away to groups all over the world that are in need because of state repression. We organise letter writing and demos and act as occasional rent-a-mob for other prison groups that we may or may not be a part of. It’s important because prisons are incredibly isolating and so staying in contact with people on the inside can make a massive difference to peoples lives

ABC means solidarity to me, the threat of prison is a relentless form of state intimidation and repression for many people and so our solidarity must also be relentless!

The challenges have been trying to make people write letters – its unglamourous work and often doesn’t get as much support as it should. My favourite abc moment was hearing first hand from an ex-prisoner how the letters of a friend of mine and ex-abc-mum changed his life.

The sense of support in the group has been memorable, and it keeps me going with the work that we do. I have also been blown away at the international solidarity that gets spread around through the ABC network. This is a rare thing and should be fucking cherished! Prisoner support also keeps me going with wider prison struggles – whilst our long term aims are to bring down the prison system helping people on the inside in various ways can bring little victories which are important!

One piece of advice is don’t get sad if you don’t get a reply to your letter, and don’t let that be a sign that the other person doesn’t want more letters!


Somewhere around 2009-2010 it became clear to many of us in the anarchist movement in our country that we will get repressed by the state sooner or later. We started ABC to get organised before the state strikes. After almost a year of existence, we did get in trouble with the state with massive wave of arrests and detentions of anarchists and antifascists.

The main focus of the group is supporting prisoners and people on trial. This is also the main part of spendings. Apart from that, we publish our own brochures on security culture, how not to talk to police and so on. We also run our website where we try to track all the repressions against anarchists and antifascists around the country. We are also one of the groups trying to push the international week of solidarity with anarchist prisoners.

For me, ABC is somehow this wall you build in front of the repressive regimes that allows activists to do their stuff without worrying about the necessity to gather money or bother about organising your own solidarity campaign in case of repression.

Apart from that, the value of ABC is also in it’s political core of solidarity, where support is not just humanitarian aid, but a political statement that unites us in struggle.

Our challenges have been surviving! For all the years the group has existed, it’s been underground with invitation only membership. With that in mind it is worth mentioning that we try to act in most of the cases without bringing the ABC brand to the table as it might potentially cause some troubles for those who are calling themselves ABC members. But those who need to know, know it anyway.

Another challenge is always the collection of money. It might be one of the most boring jobs ever. At the same time, if you do it properly it might turn into fun. But it is anyway a real challenge not to end up broke after another wave of repressions that the state starts against the movement.

I think the most inspiring moment was when we organised an infotable with letter writting at one of the big events. A really young girl came with her mother to write letters to prisoners. Her mother was crying, while the daughter was writing something on the postcard. I think moments like that boost my faith in humankind even if sometimes it crumbles.

What keeps me going? I think there is this egoistic approach that if something happens to me, I would love people to help me out. This is one of the reasons, and the other thing is that through the years of work in ABC it is becoming clearer what solidarity means and how important it is. Not just the words, but actions that move the walls around the people and make repressions a little bit less successful.

My advice to new people - Ask other groups if you are hesitant about how to start. Some support from collectives now far from you might help you understand how the things are working way faster and you can start spreading your solidarity very soon! And try it! It is a lot of fun although from the very beginning it might look overwhelming.

Just start doing and trying to support people and it will give you this burst of doing something that makes difference. Starting from the small letters and ending up supporting people during the trial. Every drop in the ocean of struggle counts.


I actually first received support from an ABC when I was in prison. This solidarity and support from the group made a huge impression on me, and when I was released and then finally free of these state conditions, I joined the group.

Our ABC group has engaged in many activities over the years. At some points, we have friends and comrades we know personally who are in prison, and our work may be more directly supporting them – like prison visits, writing letters, fundraising etc. Other times, our work is more focused on international solidarity. We try to organise at least one monthly event; this could be anything from a vegan burger night to raise money, to hosting a speaker who is touring and talking about a certain situation. We also try to keep our website updated with news from around the world. We have produced a number of publications and also write articles. Fortunately, there is another group in our area that focuses on supporting defendants before prison, so our main focus can be supporting people in prison. We also get involved in national campaigns against prison expansion and more. We also organise actions as part of international days of action.

I feel that ABC is beautiful and necessary for many reasons. I feel it is really important that the anarchist movement builds up the infrastructure that enables us to be resilient to repression. It’s clear from history that effective struggles will always be met by state and capitalist forces.

We need to learn from history and be prepared. It’s useful to have ABC groups in existence so that when the shit hits the fan, we are ready and can respond. It’s also meaningful to be organising international solidarity and constantly be developing and strengthening these relationships. For myself, on a very personal level, ABC gave me hope and strength in prison. Knowing that oneday I could get out and meet these kind people who supported me really meant the world. It kept me going and it gave power to my heart knowing these people existed!

I think our main challenge has been finding enough people willing to organise in a dedicated way. It is very easy to find people to help with certain events, like doing cooking, but it has been harder at times to have enough people who will do this more boring or invisible work like checking emails or updating the prisoner list. There have also been some challenges with the gendered division of labour but this is improving!

Sometimes, the emotional work involved in ABC can be challenging too. Like when you hear from comrades who have been tortured or beaten in prison, or are just struggling with imprisonment. Organising can help you to feel less powerless, but you still feel like you just want to go there and destroy the walls and get these people out! I think this feeling of ‘not doing enough’ is something that many people feel who are engaged in struggles, its not exclusive to ABC.

My favourite moment is I think definitely visiting one prison on the New Year’s Eve solidarity demos and making noise outside. Inside the women were shouting back, and banging on the doors – and it’s like the whole prison came alive with noises of defiance. It was amazing! We later heard from a woman in this prison at the time who said it really ‘kicked off’ in the prison that night and everyone their felt amazed that people would come on NYE to support them. What keeps me going? It sounds really cheesy to say things like “Until All Are Free” or “Until Every Cage is Empty” but I really feel this way. That, we simply cannot stop until all the cages and prisons in this world are destroyed.

What keeps me going is knowing that these systems of oppression and exploitation still exist and that the necessity to fight remains. Emotionally, what keeps me going is friendships that I have gained through the ABC network. There are some incredibly inspiring people active in this struggle and it is an honour to know them.

My advice for new groups is to ask for support when you need it – contact one of the longer running groups and simply ask for help. We have all made so many mistakes and learned so much over the years that people are happy to help others to get started. Also, make sure you take care of yourself and each other! And fuck macho bullshit smile


For some years, I was aware about the existence of such a group in our city. I rather felt it is something super-secret and to me it was a kind of 7th level of anarchism or something. Now it sounds really ridiculous, but I guess it was so because it was vital to not talk about who is doing what and who is who, you know.

My involvement started with wave of repression which also hit me and my comrades, and anti-repression work got much wider scale than before and involved more people. After some time, I realised that actually we are doing things which ABC is doing for a long time, and the only difference is that I don‘t meet other people from the group, who don’t necessarily do public things and don’t want many people to know about their involvement.

So after some time I got closer and took some responsibilities that I wanted to take care of. It was simple because we are just bunch of friends and see each other very often, and it is actually hard to name the day when I got involved as our ABC group doesn‘t have ritual for accepting new people, like oaths around the campfire when it’s a full moon – which is really nice ritual I think..!

My favourite moment - I think I really liked how we were inventing nicknames for all these police and state assholes who were trying to send us to prison. Making jokes about all of them while writing an article and sometimes trying to write it in the most funny way we could – I think I could count so many hours that we spent laughing about the police.

And I think all these organising moments were not how many people imagine activism or how actually activism looks like – something boring and taking a lot of time. Because it is not activism. Our case is a bunch of friends, cooking food together and having a good time, and meanwhile actually doing things. But also I got to say that there are things which start to be hard after some time, like publishing things on the website – especially if you have dozens of other things to do.

It is good to share these responsibilities and not to create these hierarchies, I mean, for example, really try to avoid a situation when there is only one or two people who know how to put things on a website or has an access to e-mail, because these things are very routine or they start to be routine very soon. So share it, and when you feel that this time it was hard for you, share it with people in group and make yourself a small reward. I thing it’s a tip for how to make things a bit more inspiring.


I’m doing anti-repression-stuff for nearly 18 years and, as an anarchist, I was always interested in organising as an ABC group and doing anti-prison-projects. There was an ABC group somewhere else in the country in the late 90s/ beginning of 2000, when I just started by myself doing things in the radical left and I had some loose contact.

Later, I was organised in an antirepression-group that did some kind of legal support service for demonstrations and so on. I left this group because of some big differences concerning the political goals we are fighting for and my personal affections to radical theory and practice. Then some people in my home town started an ABC group in 2008. It took some years because of different personal and political issues but then I joined them.

One of my favourite moments was when we organised the Anti-Prison-Days some years ago and an anarchist long-termprisoner joined the meeting. He was 16 years behind bars and was released 10 days before he traveled to the meeting. It was really impressive to meet him and listen to his words during the discussions. He was so open-minded and talked about his experiences in prison. For me, it was the affirmation of why I’m fighting against the prison industry and that we are right.

What keeps me going? It’s fucking important. Yes, it’s hard work and nothing fun about that, but it has to be pushed forward. We are not just doing antirepression work, we are enemies of the state and capitalism and ABC is just one part of a lot. I can not stop. There will be always repression as long there is the state, so we will continue.

My advice to people starting - do your work and fight. It’s not a hobby or some kind of project that you can quit when you are interested in something new or more fascinating.

For me, it makes no sense to start an ABC group and then stop with it some years later because nobody is interested in the things you are doing or the fights you are going through. Of course not. Anti-Repression is never some fun-stuff. It’s hard work. And it’s hard to continue. But don’t give up. Some small breaks, ok, but don’t give up. It’s also a story of trust and dependability for other people in the same or similar fights.


This work started for me almost 20 years ago, when I started to get involved with a quite active punk scene. At this time, there was an active ABC group in the south of this country and one of the people was also doing a DIY Punk Zine and I ordered it. And with and within the zine was also ABC Material. I immediately had the feeling that this is important and got drawn to this topic. And so a friend and I made an ABC Solidarity Benefit Compilation on Tape. We spread and printed flyers and pamphlets about ABC and prisoners. Over the next years, the topic was still important for me and I did some solidarity stuff for ABC groups but it would take almost 10 more years to start our own group in my city in 2008.

Prison or Anti-prison perspectives were not a topic in the anti-authoritarian movement at all and the anti-repression groups did not have an anti-prison/antiauthoritarian perspective. We wanted to change this.

In the first years, our main focus was to spread the ideas of an anarchist view against prisons and make prisons/ repression and solidarity a bigger topic within the anti-authoritarian movement. After a while, the banners on solidarity demonstrations changed from “freedom for all political prisoners” to “freedom for all prisoners” wink haha. But we did a lot of talks about why we as anarchists are against prisons and that there can’t be a free society with prisons. A lot of people within the movement seemed to have a hard time with these ideas at least at first. We also did an Infotour through the country about this topic.

We made and printed flyers and zines about prison related topics, made talks about current cases and prisoners and always collected money to support prisoners and other groups. We took part in international gatherings and also organised Anti-Prison-Days.

We participated in solidarity actions and since 6 years now, we organise a solidarity-festival once a year. Since 4 years, we publish a monthly printed newsletter. We have a regular updated website with current events and an incomplete list of prisoners.

And we have an always growing book and zine distro. Sometimes, we manage to travel around and give talks about ABC related topics and/or the history of Anarchist Black Cross in general. We are always happy to get asked for doing talks.

We consider ourselves more an antiprison group than an anti-repression group, but also do anti-repression work. Since about one year, we do a monthly letter writing workshop.

I think ABC is important because think it’s an important part of an anarchist struggle. We have to support (our) prisoners and also have to keep the struggle against this prison society going. ABC can be a useful label under which different groups can also connect more easily. There is a lot of material to use from other ABC groups and the ABC also has a long history we can look back and try to learn but also take inspiration from.

Most people who are somehow involved with an anti-authoritarian movement or just the punk scene know what ABC is. There are punk-festivals all over Europe in solidarity with ABC groups who want to support this cause even if they are not part of groups themselves.

On the other side, I think it is important to get organised and have anarchist structures to support prisoners, which keep on going and not form new from case to case. And also not to completely rely on the German Rote Hilfe, for example, who managed to print in the last two years at least two articles in the Rote Hilfe-Newspaper celebrating authoritarian communism (who killed and incarcerated anarchists/antiauthoritarians). Of course many of the “sub-groups” who are part of Rote Hilfe are not like this, but I think this overreliance in Germany on this structure is dangerous. And it also shows somehow that we are everywhere! wink And that we are connected in a loose international network.

The challenges have been to keep going and not to burn out. In this line of work so to speak there is not so many moments of success, where you see immediately a result. We started with a group which was more than twice the size than we are now. Many people lost interest in the group, the ideas, the struggle… But I guess otherwise the usual stuff like life in a capitalist society in general.

The best moment is often its just a letter you get from inside prison. The last two years we also got invited to talk at a festival about our work and they wrote some really nice words about our group and our work and why they do a benefit especially for us. It felt really nice to get appreciated for the work you do. It’s not why we do it, but to be honest it felt just really good.

What keeps us going? It is just really important and it’s just part of our struggle as anarchists. It sometimes does not feel like much what you can do, but then you get letters from prisoners and they still have so much fight in them and they let you feel how important your support is to them. And most of the time you never met them but you read their words and you feel this strong bond and affinity. I personally get a lot of power and energy back from these letters.

Also meeting people over the years who are involved since the 80s and even 70s in anti-prison-struggles is always very inspiring for me. Or people who do this work living in far more repressive countries. And their experiences and how they manage. And there is still prisons and capitalism and no liberated society, so there is also still the need of ABC. wink

My advice to new people is don’t do it because it’s cool or trendy, or because you think it gets you scene credibility or shit like this. Don’t do this if you see this as “activism”, what you do for a while get disillusioned because things don’t work as you want them, or prisoners are difficult or you just get bored and just quit again. Anarchism and solidarity isn’t a hobby. People rely on you and your support.

Give yourself realistic goals (for the start). I mean of course, the anarchist revolution the main goal but you know what I mean. wink You will need a lot of stamina and it will take a lot of energy. Maybe get in contact with other ABC groups, there is a lot you can learn from their experiences. You don’t have to start at zero.

International Days of Solidarity

Many international days and weeks of action take place throughout the year in solidarity with prisoners. This list represents a few of those that take place. These days can help keep prisoner support active and visible in our movements and struggles - but we are not limited to them.

ABC groups organise many other events and actions at any day of the year. Shared days of action help us to build momentum, share resources and gain strength for particular prisoners and struggles. These days are the same each year, but many new days and weeks of action are announced spontaneously when solidarity is urgently needed.

New York ABC also produce a poster each month of political prisoner birthdays. This is a great resource for regular letter writing events:

Trans Prisoner Day of Action and Solidarity - January 22

This grassroots project was initiated by Marius Mason, a trans prisoner in Texas, US. This annual event is being lead by trans prisoners and their supporters from around the world. It is a chance for those on the outside to remember those behind bars, give real solidarity and support and raise awareness about issues facing trans prisoners. It is a chance for those on the inside to have a voice and organise together.

International Women’s Day - March 8

While this day continues to be whitewashed and channeled into liberal and capitalist feminisms, many anarchists and others use this day to fight against patriarchy and remember the radical history of Women’s Day. ABC groups have organised letter writing events and info nights about incarcerated women worldwide.

International Day Against Police Brutality – March 15

The International Day Against Police Brutality is observed on March 15. It first began in 1997 as an initiative of the Montreal based Collective Opposed to Police Brutality and the Black Flag group in Switzerland. Acceptance of March 15 as a focal day of solidarity against police brutality varies from one place to another.

Palestinian Prisoners Day - April 17

During this day, people worldwide organise rallies, events and actions in solidarity with Palestinian Political Prisoners. Every year, Palestinian prisoners carry out an open-ended hunger strike, while those on the outside seek to amplify their voices.

International Workers’ Day of May Day - May 1

May Day is held in commemoration of four anarchists executed in the US in 1886 and all the thousands of others who have struggled for the working classes. Many groups in this period organise solidarity actions and use it as an opportunity to highlight prison labour and all the incarcerated workers in prison.

Read more about the history here: haymarket-martyrs-mayday

International Day of Solidarity with Long-term Anarchist Prisoners - June 11

Each year, June 11th serves as a day for us to remember our longest imprisoned anarchist comrades through words, actions and ongoing material support. The June 11 website shares many resources and a listing of prisoners who value increased support in this period. People are encouraged to take actions all over the world and report them back. Each year, a zine is created of writings and reports.

International Day of Solidarity with Eric King - June 28

Eric King is an anarchist prisoner in the US who was sentenced to 10 years in prison on June 28th 2016 for an attempted firebombing of a government official’s office. Since his arrest and subsequent incarceration, he has been extremely isolated from his loved ones and has repeatedly been targeted by the guards. He has spent many months in solitary confinement. This day of action is to build support for Eric in his final years of surviving prison.

International Day of Solidarity with Anti-Fascist Prisoners - July 25

The July 25 International Day of Solidarity with Antifascist Prisoners originated in 2014 as the Day of Solidarity with Jock Palfreeman, an Australian man serving a 20-year sentence in Bulgaria for defending two Romani men from an attack by fascist football hooligans. It is now expanded to support all anti-fascist prisoners. Groups are encouraged to organise solidarity actions, events, fundraisers, letter writings and more. Find a list of prisoners here:

Prisoners Justice Day - August 10

August 10th is a day set aside to remember all those who have died unnatural deaths inside Canadian prisons. The day of action started in Canada in 1974 when prisoner Edward Nolan bled to death at Millhaven Maximum Security Prison in Bath, Ontario. This date has now become a marking point for prison struggle across the world.

International week of solidarity with anarchist prisoners 23 - 30 August

This is a global week of action dedicated to anarchist prisoners. Solidarity can express itself in many forms; from graffiti to attacks to letter writing evenings. A collective poster and call-out is written and shared online and then groups make autonomous actions and can send reports for the website if they wish. The beginning of the week was chosen because of the historical execution date of Sacco and Vanzetti, two Italian-American anarchists, in 1927. They were convicted with a very little amount of evidence, and many still consider that they were punished because of their anarchist views.

International Trans Day of Remembrance - 28 November

The Transgender Day of Remembrance was set aside to memorialise those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice. It honours the dead, and fights for the living. Many anti-prison groups have taken actions against prisons on these days, remembering trans prisoners who have died inside.

New Year’s Eve Noise Demonstrations

It has become tradition, that on the noisiest night of the year - we also make noise for prisoners. Internationally, noise demonstrations outside of prisons are a way to remember those who are held captive by the state and a way to show solidarity with imprisoned comrades and loved ones. We come together to break the loneliness and isolation. Demos take place all over the world to let prisoners know they are not alone.

Fundraising: Top Tips

Fundraising is one of the biggest parts of our activity. Whether we want it or not, a lot of solidarity work requires money. Starting from lawyers for the legal aid and ending up with parcels to the prisoners and support for those that are at the financial bottom due to repressions.

Some people find it to be a nasty business, others turn it into quite a positive experience. It is up to you to decide which approach you take but it should be clear that if you are taking your ABC activity seriously you won’t be able to avoid fundraising.

Here are some tips from our own experience on how you can make some money. Some of it might not fit into reality due to political repressions. This list is for updating for sure. So if you or your group have something to add – feel free to write us back with your experience.

Fundraising evening/Presentation

These are some kinds of presentations, discussions or workshops that are connected with the matter for which you are fundraising. For example, a presentation on repression against activists protesting against G20, that might be a platform to raise solidarity funds. These are quite good in case you want to collect money for causes that are not really present in your region. Through these events you can inform people and potentially inspire people to start being active in support of this or that cause. However, you shouldn’t expect a lot of money from these kinds of events, as people are normally not eager to donate money directly after a presentation. The interest in donating might be encouraged with some materials for sale/donation on the topic. Even such things as t-shirts or patches might be a small connection to the topic for some people.

You can also go away from a traditional presentation format and organize a solidarity dinner. Some groups are reporting that well organized dinner might raise more funds and attract more people than just a presentation.

Solidarity calls

Sometimes it is worth to giving a shout around the anarchist movement for help. It might be that the other groups have more possibilities to access funds than you do. For example, western countries have more wealth than eastern or southern countries.

In that case, such a call can provoke other people to take action in their own town and raise funds for you. Do not underestimate the power of solidarity – you might be positively surprised how people are eager to help those they don’t know, but with whom they share ideas.


This is one of the most popular ways of fundraising in western countries. In most of the cases you can openly advertise the cause of the party and give people possibility to party for cause. It is a great way of raising money, because people are eager to spend it on drinks or they just donate more in good mood.

However, good parties require a lot of efforts from multiple individuals. There is nothing worse than organizing a bad fundraising party. If you get a reputation of bad party maker, there is little chance that this fundraising way will be open to you for long.

That’s why parties should be original and fun. Some of the groups due to political decisions are not selling alcohol or any other drugs at their soli-parties.


Infotours are the more advanced version of a presentation event/party. An infotour is a set of events happening around different cities with the goal of informing people about the situation, but also raising funds for the cause.

Not only are they are good for raising funds, but also for establishing networks with other activists. Connections that you are building on the road are irreplaceable in your struggle. People that you might meet during an infotour might become comrades till the end of your life.

However, it is also a lot of work. In many cases infotours have an intensive schedule and we would suggest not to do it longer than a couple of weeks, otherwise your head might give up before your body

Tattoo Circus

Many ABC and other autonomous groups raise money for prisoners through organising Tattoo Circuses. These are events where tattoo artists give their time for free. People pay to get tattooed and all this money goes to prisoners or support campaigns. They can raise many thousands of euros over one weekend. Tattoo Circuses also have programs of workshops and presentations to raise awareness about different cases of repression and different struggles. Many groups also organise music, food and drinks to sell to fundraise over the weekend.

Benefit Gigs/Shows/Concerts

Fundraising gigs are a great way to raise money. However, if you are paying the bands or even just paying their petrol, sometimes it is hard to even ‘break even’. Benefit gigs are often the best when bands give their time for free and so all the money can go to prisoners. They can be a good opportunity to do a stall and prisoner letter writing too.

Many groups find they make more money from music events that can have more people, such as a rave or a hip hop night compared to a punk show. However, some people organise whole festivals that raise a lot of money through punk/metal/crust music - see the Fest in Vienna for inspiration!

Sport and Sponsored Events

Some individuals and groups will raise money through sponsoring. They will ask friends to give them a donation if they do a 10k run for example. Some people even do this with shaving their head or other silly things! It takes a lot of energy and commitment but can be a nice way to fundraise.

New York ABC and supporting groups also organise a ‘Running Down the Walls’. These sponsored runs raise much needed funds for their work. People can also walk/bike/roll the 5k routes.


Raffles are simply where people buy a ticket and potentially win a prize. They can be a great addition at any event, such as a presentation or benefit gig. You can ask supporters to donate prizes and can get extra-nice things through five-finger discounts at your local stores!


Merchandise never goes out of fashion. People always seem happy to buy benefit t-shirts, patches and other items. They can be expensive to print and organise, however, costs can be reduced through doing the screen printing yourselves in your group (or finding volunteers to do it), as well as finding t-shirts in charity shops. Some groups will also appropriate blank t-shirts from corporate stores ready to be screen printed on!

Monthly donations

Many antiauthoritarian and anti-fascist groups have the option for people to donate regularly, such as £3 per month. This creates a sustainable income source and is a good model to replicate if you have a bank account and this structure. It can be more difficult if you are informal without an account (many groups do not have a formal account for security reasons).

Anarchist Defence Fund

An International Anarchist Defence Fund was launched in 2018. It collects funds from members who join and can then contribute to decision making in response to applications for the fund. The collective solidarity structure provides support to anarchists around the world who are persecuted or find themselves in a difficult life situation because of their political ideas or activities.

Last words

Whether it is a dinner or a party, infotour or single presentation it is important to understand that fundraising events are also building up an atmosphere of solidarity inside of the anarchist movement. If today people are taking care of comrade A. when he/she/they are facing repressions, than it means that tomorrow nobody is going to give up! This feeling of support from your comrades is extremely important in building up revolutionary community that is embarking on the way of revolution.

So don’t hesitate. If you don’t have experience – ask other groups or your friends to help you out. Be creative and embrace the hard parts of fundraising work just to enjoy the good parts of it. Disclaimer: with this list we don’t want to list only legal options. Please remember that this zine doesn’t cancel more traditional ways of fundraising that anarchists exercised in previous centuries: for example expropriation wink

How to Keep an ABC Group Going

One could say: the fuel that ABC goes on with, is active work with the case of repression that group has to deal with. That is to say, when repression is not happening and people took security culture into their blood and heads, antirepressive groups like ABC should go into sleeping mode, if not just disappear. People just stand up like after the film finishes in the cinema, and folks go home since the action is over.

That is also the case sometimes; some contemporary ABC groups stop being active after the most visible and actual part of repressions that are happening at their places are over. But it doesn‘t mean it should always go this way.

There are plenty of reasons why ABC groups would stop existing after repressions. For example, very often people who are involved in ABC group are part of other projects, and starting an ABC group might be a practical necessity to organize against repression, especially if no anti-repressive groups already exist. Among other reasons, there might be some traumatic experiences that were connected to the support work that had been done. All of this is understandable. But many of us who participated in ABC noticed a continuing need to keep it going. Why so?

ABC as a type of organisation, and as part of tactical ways of how anarchists have been fighting against states and supporting those who got caught, has a great tradition. And the Black Cross organisational philosophy is sill an abolitionist philosophy.

More than 100 years ago, anarchists in the same type of organisation that had a different name for a while, were actively opposing the tsarist regime, and just few years later they became an enemy to the Bolshevik state, same as to all other states states on Earth. Coming through both Tsarist and Bolshevik prisons and executions back then, and today fighting against prisons and state repressions all over the world, Anarchist Black Cross as an idea gains not only sad but true historical perspective on revolution, the State and its prisons, but also brings a clear abolitionist perspective to ABC’s long term goals and everyday struggle.

It‘s clear: we absolutely need to destroy all prisons; this institution of control that takes a role of being a connecting glue in relation to other systems of oppression, such as patriarchy, class or racism. Prisons never solved any problems and only created countless numbers of them, destroyed so many lives, cultures and beautiful human and animal beings.

However, we all know it’s not easy as that. Destroying prisons is not a single act of liberating violence, but rather a complicated and long-term process of building other kinds of relationships within society. It is about moving our mutual understanding of punishment, prison and life without them towards an uncompromisingly deep and radical analysis of how they work, what can be done do destroy them and what are the social relations that we want. All three are just proposals, there are many ways of how to put it. But of course, all of these go together. We can’t create an analysis as first, and then destroy prisons, and then think of how we want to live. We do it all in one piece, and that is what makes our abolitionist ideas strong.

The positions presented above also means a damn huge amount of work to be done. And that’s why your local ABC group should go on. As destroying prisons is a hell of an effort, it has to be said also that repressions never stop – obviously, that is quite against an example of an ABC group that appears as repressions come and falls apart as they go.

What Might Be Done to Keep an ABC Group Going?

First of all, try think of repression in a wider context. It might seem that repression is a relatively short-term situation but repression is actually a part of The Situation. That means that The Repression is always present. The State is always out there and it’s control over people lives itself means repression and social warfare. Whatever it is: a fine, the laws and the whole mechanism and collective illusion that make them work, the borders, a criminal case, the cop which passes by in a police car on your street, the papers, the courts, the whole so-called public order etc. Not all repression is visible: some of them are so much part of our everyday life that we rather don’t consider them to be repressions in our usual understanding, whether the state is opening a large criminal case against our comrades or it’s cops are beating us up on the streets. Our desire for liberation is equally in conflict with ‘small’ and ‘big’ repressions, and prisons uphold all of them.

Practically then, think of ways how you as a group can work with all of that. Basically, keeping ABC group going means working with it as with a kind of a project. But there is no recipe for every group, on what has to be done to keep going. Before setting particular goals, try to talk to each other inside your group. Discussion can be much more useful than a manual. Discuss these or any other ideas that you find meaningful:

- What kind of anti-repressive or abolitionist work is missing in our local area?

- What is the new thing that your ABC group could come up with from an anarchist tactical perspective of fighting prisons and the State that hasn’t been present in your area and could be meaningful?

- What kind of projects or initiatives inspire you?

- Are there any legal support groups that you can be in contact with? Does it make sense to start one?

- How could you make happen some periodic educational events, connected to raising the level of security culture and awareness? Are there ways how you could make such events more interesting, interactive and easier? What can be done to get more people interested?

- Consider the idea of making benefit events for collecting money for your project and/or for prisoner support. How can you make such events more effective and get more people involved? How can you connect such events to other ideas and discussion you’ve been having with your group?

- Look out for events that you could participate in as a group and present your ideas, perspective and work that you are doing.

- Has there been any large and/or known state repression cases in your context that you are familiar with and which could be a lesson for more people in your area and beyond? How can you make in-depth analysis of what happened and what it can potentially teach you?

- Think of starting cooperative and common projects with other ABC groups and other friendly collectives near your area and even further.

- What are some possible short-, middle- and long-term goals for your ABC group that might exist?

- What are the practical ways in which you could connect your ABC work outside of prison with things that are happening on the inside? How can that can empower and widen the struggle?

- What are the limitations of your ABC group?

- Is there anything that can bring people in your ABC group closer together as friends and comrades? What could empower you as a project, or as a group of active individuals?

- What is your relation to the dichotomy of political and social, especially in relation to ‘political’ and ‘social’ prisoners? What are the limitations of such divisions and where do these divisions rise from? What has to be done to bring this discussion to the broader public?

- What can be done to keep your group activities more sustainable?

Go on and talk to your comrades. Share ideas, make things happen, organise – the sky is the limit.

Taking Care of Each Other

ABC work can be hard, stressful and emotionally be challenging at times. Seeing our friends and comrades be arrested, beaten, have their houses raided by police, sit through trials, go to prison and more can be seriously tough. Many people in ABC groups will also be active in other groups so may be simultaneously experiencing repression and supporting others to survive repression.

Prisoner support work can mean an intimacy with death. We may lose the people we love due to medical neglect, suicide or even at the hands (or guns) of the police. Coping with grief and managing chronic stress are important skills for ABC organisers.

Many people burn out from prisoner support and anti-repression work and this is why taking care of ourselves and each other is super important! This section of the zine aims to explore this topic and share some resources.

Vicarious trauma & ABC work

As anarchists, as people resisting the dehumanising nature of capitalism and the state, we see a lot of fucked up shit. We may experience this ourselves directly (like prison), or we may support people we are close to surviving certain chronically stressful and traumatic situations. Or we may just be reading and writing about what other people are going through. Either way, we are exposed to a lot of heavy and upsetting things and it is obvious this is going to begin to affect us (otherwise we wouldn’t be human).

One way this is recognised is in the concept of ‘vicarious trauma’. Vicarious trauma has been described by the Headington Insitute as the “process of change that happens because you care about other people that have been hurt, and feel committed or responsible to help them. Over time this process can lead to changes in your psychological, physical and spiritual wellbeing.”

Increasingly trauma conversation and writing acknowledges the effects of long-term and complex trauma, beyond one-off traumatic incidents like a car accident. It shines a light on the potential cumulative consequences of bringing other people’s grief, fear, anger, and despair into our own awareness and experience over a longer period of time. Some of these changes might be noticed through different signs.

Physical and physiological signs can include:

- Hyperarousal symptoms (e.g., nightmares, difficulty concentrating, being easily startled, sleep difficulties)

- Repeated thoughts or images regarding traumatic events, especially when you are trying not to think about it

- Feeling numb

- Feeling unable to tolerate strong emotions

- Increased sensitivity to violence

- Cynicism, Anger, Disgust, Fear

- Generalized despair and hopelessness, and loss of idealism

- Guilt regarding your own survival and/ or pleasure

Behaviour and relationship signs may include:

- Difficulty setting boundaries

- Feeling like you never have time or energy for yourself.

- Feeling disconnected from loved ones, even when communicating with them

- Increased conflict in relationships

- General social withdrawal

- Acting out/exhibiting the “silencing response” – finding yourself unable to pay attention to other’s distressing stories because they seem overwhelming and incomprehensible, and directing people to talk about less distressing material

- Decreased interest in activities that used to bring pleasure, enjoyment, or relaxation. Sexual difficulties.

- Irritable, intolerant, agitated, impatient, needy, and/or moody. Impulsivity.

- Increased dependencies or addictions involving nicotine, alcohol, food, sex, shopping, internet, and/or other substances

There can also be changes in how we see and experience the world:

- Changes in spirituality and beliefs around meaning and purpose. We may start to question what we believe or lose hope or lose our sense of purpose. Our political worldviews and beliefs may change over time too in response to the ongoing trauma we witness. For example, for many going to prison may increase their rage and keep them going in their fight. For many others, prison will make them feel that fighting back is pointless and hopeless and they may abandon their social movements that were once a huge part of their life.

- Changes in identity – you may feel disconnected from certain identities that you once held dear (such as calling yourself an anarchist or feminist). You may find that you can’t cope with organising any more and this affects your sense of who you are.

- Changes in beliefs related to major psychological needs (e.g., beliefs regarding safety, control, trust, esteem, and intimacy). In an ABC context, this might mean that perhaps you no longer trust certain friends because they let you down while you were in prison. Or it can mean that after police infiltration that intimate relationships feel impossible.

Taking Care of Ourselves - Some Ideas

Resources on vicarious trauma suggest some strategies that can help. These include:

- Escaping - taking time off, watching movies, reading etc

- Resting - making sure we get adequate rest and respite from it all

- Playing - Doing fun things, exercising our bodies etc

- Nurturing a sense of meaning and hope - finding things that keep us inspired, that could be reading about historical comrades, going to gatherings, spending time with particular people etc.

- Mourning our losses - grief is such a huge part of ABC work at times, finding a way to mourn in a healthy and nourishing way is super important

- Marking transitions - this may include celebrating small achievements, like having a successful event or completing a new zine, or reflecting at the end of the year

- Investing time in ourselves - this means investing energy in ourselves beyond our political work, this might involve studying, or learning self-defence, gardening and more. Whatever we also yearn for, we need to cultivate it too.

- Being aware of our risk factors - knowing your signs when you are teetering on the edge, learning to listen to your body and take action to meet your needs, so that you can set better boundaries with projects and the amount of support work you can realistically do

- Connecting with other people - especially those who have a shared sense of understanding of what you are going through, or have been through

- Trying to cultivate a sense of joy and wonder - check out the book ‘Joyful Militancy’ which shares a different understanding of joy (which is not necessarily skipping in the meadows or even happiness) but more of a becoming who we are in working for liberation

Building Care into our Collectives

A lot of the ‘self-care’ suggestions create some idea that it’s our fault if we burn out because we haven’t taken care of ourselves well. While our personal actions for sure contribute to our health and survival, they are part of a much bigger system than ourselves - from how our collectives share labour to how capitalism destroys our access to healthcare, and so forth. So no blame or shame - let’s just all care for each other better so we can better destroy what destroys us!

Here are some suggestions and ideas for what ABC groups can do to take care of each better in our groups:

- Encouraging regular time off organising for each other, making people feel supported that they can take a step back if they need.

- Have adequate expenses policies/ financial support when appropriate to support people to participate - this might mean using ABC funds to pay for healthy meals when touring so we are not just getting sick doing this work because we cannot afford to pay for lunch.

- Ensure solid introductions to how groups work/how to do things and give support for new people. Create opportunities for people to learn new skills.

- Pay attention to the division of labour in your group and don’t take each other for granted! Be especially aware of race, gender, class and other factors that can often deeply affect who does what.

- Be aware of who is often setting the pace in the group and check in with each other if it’s sustainable for you all.

- Talk about how you communicate as a crew and what you expect from each other. Find a way of getting things done and tracking your action points so it’s not just one person reminding everyone, which can be exhausting and disempowering for people.

- Organise fun/nice/adventurous opportunities for yourselves, like traveling to an event in a different city, or doing a speaking tour in a different city. These ‘perks’ can help keep us going when we may have done years and years of heavy things like endless prison visits.

- Getting training for our groups e.g. Workshops, courses, reading groups, gatherings and skillshares (especially around trauma and burnout prevention)

- Organising accessible counselling or fundraising to pay for a counsellor for people experiencing repression so that people have solid, reliable support and the weight of emotional labour is not all on each other.

- Medical and health support - for example, connecting with local herbalists who can make herbal medicines to help bodies cope with stress, like the J20 who received support from the herbal community in the US during their stressful trial.

- Creating collective models of care for childcare, elder care, supporting people with chronic illnesses etc (and respite for carers).

- Creating face-to-face time together to work together so we are less isolated and feel more connected to each other. Invest time in building your friendships!

- Working collectively especially when shit gets distressing (so we all feel more supported).

- Ensuring appropriate decision making in groups so people feel able to share their feelings, opinions and ideas.

- Autonomy – building a group where folk feel control and agency over their own work and tasks.

- Having regular check-ins with your group about how you are all feeling/ coping and support you might need right now.

- A culture where everyone calls each other out/flags up when the pace is unsustainable or potentially harming each other.

- Paying attention to the partners of prisoners who often do the most support work practically and emotionally, while coping with their own grief and loss about their partners imprisonment.

- Destroy machismo!! We can encourage prisoners to write honestly about how they are feeling, make sure in workshops and talks we talk about the reality of prison and not try to dismiss people as weak if they are finding situations harder or expressing their vulnerability more visibly.

- Don’t judge people for drinking or drug use if this is connected to trauma or repression, everyone is at a different point of their journey in healing and finding coping tools.

- Centre the person who is experiencing repression and make sure they have as much power and agency as possible. A lot of traumatisation relates to feeling powerless. Make sure anyone you support is actively involved in decision making about the support they want and need.

- Valuing people might involve: challenging multiple and intersecting forms of oppression in groups, supporting people that have experienced abuse or violence, squashing machismo, having support for folks experiencing repression, supporting people that have burnt out etc. Basically not treating each other like we are disposable.

- Having fun!!! Trying to make tasks enjoyable, like cooking a fundraising dinner and listening to music, or taking snacks to court etc.

- Express care for each other in any way you can. Whether it is sending each other silly memes or bringing cakes to a meeting. These small acts of care can really help people feel loved and appreciated.

These are just a few ideas! Explore more in your ABC groups about how you can make this work a little bit easier by caring for each other better.

In the words of Kevin Van Meter:

“Our task is to care together as we struggle together. By pushing forth the complexity of experience and realities that arise in caring for those who are mentally and physically ill, traumatized, dying, survivors of intimate violence and incarceration, addicted, suffering from chronic pain, struggling against the imposition of binary gender, and working in the care and medical industries our movements deepen our relationships with one another and construct new fronts for revolutionary struggle. It is these everyday realities that need to be considered on the long arc of sustained organizing and revolutionary change”


In this chapter you will find links to materials in the English language, which are useful before, during and after prison.

We assume this category as very broad to think of; a category for a thick book about literature, films, and practical knowledge. Now, due to the context of a zine, we will relate accordingly to zines, films and some books. The choice of materials we present and link to in this chapter is influenced by our personal preferences and experiences, and relates to our organizing in so-called European and North American contexts. We also copied some brief descriptions for films, represented in pop culture media. Some of the films may seem cheesy and you could be surprised why some of them were included on the list.

Watch, read, wonder, explore, think. Sometimes you can find great material to analyze in something you would not expect to be anything else than a waste of time.

Zines and Books

Transformative Justice

- Creative Interventions - Toolkit to stop interpersonal violence

- Furthering Transformative Justice, Building Healthy Communities - An interview with Philly Stands Up

- Towards Transformative Justice - pdf produced by Generation Five

- What About the Rapists? - Zine Collection of articles representing different approaches to the problem of harm and domination in our communities, from transformative justice-based accountability processes to retributive-based acts of survivor-led retaliation

Racism and Colonialism

- Beyond Walls and Cages - Prisons, borders and global crisis Important book linking migration and the P.I.C. Edited by Jenna M Lloyd, Matt Mitchelson and Andrew Burridge, 2012.

- The New Abolitionists: (Neo)slave Narratives And Contemporary Prison Writings Written by prisoners about the contemporary prison system in the US

Prisoner Writing and Organising

- Solidarity Without Prejudice - Long term prisoner John Bowden asks what criteria could be used when supporting prisoners

- Tenacious, Art and writings by women in prison - Regular zine coming out of the US produced by prisoners

- Thoughts on Prisoner Support - Written by long term prisoner John Bowden Prisoner Support and Solidarity

- Never Alone - A zine about supporting prisoners by those on the outside. Produced by the Empty Cages Collective and Bristol ABC.

Prison Industrial Complex

- Captive Genders: Transembodiment and Prison Industrial Complex - Book about gender and the P.I.C. An important read.

- Challenging the Prison-Industrial Complex: Activism, Arts, and Educational Alternatives_ Book about how to creatively challenge the prison industrial complex.

- Close Supervision Centres - Torture Units in the UK #2_ Publication produced by Bristol ABC about Close Supervision Centres.

- The Prison Works. Occasional texts on the roles of prison and prison labour - By Joe Black/Bra Bros. Published by the Campaign Against Prison Slavery and Brighton Anarchist Black Cross

Prison Abolition

- Abandoned: Abolishing female prisons to prevent sexual abuse and herald an end to incarceration - Article by David W. Fran. Exploring examples in the US and the UK.

- Abolition Now! Ten years of strategy and struggle against the prison industrial complex - Short book of different articles around prison abolition, mainly US focused but still very real and inspiring.

- Are Prisons Obsolete? - Incredible book by Angela Yvonne Davis, 2003, Seven Stories Press .

- Instead of Prisons: Handbook for Abolitionists - Comprehensive text on alternatives to prison and the decarceration movement

- Prison Abolition is Practical - Article by Nathan Goodman

- The Abolitionist Toolkit - Toolkit for abolitionists developed by Critical Resistance

Policing and Repression

- On the Out - A zine about life after prison, produced by Bristol ABC.

- Under the Yoke of the State - Selected anarchist responses to prisons and crime, vol 1. 1886 – 1929

- On Repression Patterns in Europe - A zine from ABC Dresden bringing analysis and interviews with anarchist folks who encountered repression and terrorist charges in European context in last several years

Organising and Resistance

- How Nonviolence Protects the State - Written by Peter Gelderloos.

- Winds from Below: Radical community organising to make a revolution possible. Book produced by the Team Colours Collective

Health and Prisons

- Dying with cancer: a booklet for prisoners. Guide produced by Macmillan Cancer Support

- Treatment Industrial Complex - A new report from the US on how for-profit corporations are undermining efforts to treat and rehabilitate prisoners for corporate gain.

Gender and Queer Struggles

- Lockdown: prison, repression and gender nonconformity - A 22-page zine analysing the enforced gender segregation and classification in prisons as well as strategies for resistance.

- Prison Abolition is a Queer issue - A4 handout on why prison abolition is a queer issue

- Prisons Will Not Protect You - An anthology by the radical LGBTQ group “Against Equality”

- Resource section on Prisons by Against Equality_ A full library of links and articles about queer struggle and prison

- Still We Rise - A resource pack for transgender and non-gender conforming people in prison

- The Queer, feminist and trans politics of prison abolition toolkit

Videos, Films and and Podcasts


- Resisting Gender Violence Without Cops or Prisons Talk by Victoria Law

- Decolonization Means Prison Abolition Film of a discussion at a conference in Portland.

- Crimethinc Radio #4: Prisoners of the World Unite

- Crimethinc Radio #6: Making Police Obsolete

- Crimethinc Radio #8: Prison Abolition and Community Accountability

- Crimethinc Radio #17: Conspiracy! State Repression Strategies and Anarchist Resistance

- Crimethinc Radio #27: Anti-Police Riots in Ferguson

- Crimethinc Radio #50: The History and Future of Prison Strikes and Solidarity

- A-Radio Berlin. Presentation: the Prison Strike in the USA 2016

- A-Radio Berlin: Belarus. Former anarchist prisoner about his experiences on how to survive jail

- A-Radio Berlin: Interview with Anarchist Black Cross Belarus on the repression, Ukraine and the refugees

- A-Radio Berlin: Chile. The hungerstrike of Mapuche Political Prisoners in the Iglesias Case

- A-Radio Berlin: Anarchist Black Cross in Czech republic. Antifenix Presentation

- The Channel Zero Network. Network of the anarchist podcasts and radios

Some Cheesy and Not Cheesy Films

We chose couple of our favorite pop culture (not only) films about prison. For more, follow: php/2018/06/05/movies-for-screenings and check out larger list of films.

Brubaker (1980): Brubaker is a 1980 American prison drama film directed by Stuart Rosenberg. It stars Robert Redford as newly arrived prison warden Henry Brubaker, who attempts to clean up a corrupt and violent penal system

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008): Set during WWII, a story seen through the innocent eyes of Bruno, the eight-yearold son of the commandant at a German concentration camp, whose forbidden friendship with a Jewish boy on the other side of the camp fence has startling and unexpected consequences.

Escape from Alcatraz (1979): Take the tour around San Francisco’s notorious Alcatraz prison island and you’ll hear that nobody has ever successfully escaped – but one man broke out and disappeared, and this movie tells his tale. Clint Eastwood is as fine and understated as ever as Frank Morris, and the movie manages to sidestep the majority of prison movie cliches

Escape from Sobibor (1987): Escape from Sobibor is a story of the mass escape from the extermination camp at Sobibor, the most successful uprising by Jewish prisoners of German extermination camps.

The Green Mile (1999): The lives of guards on Death Row are affected by one of their charges: a black man accused of child murder and rape, yet who has a mysterious gift.

Guerilla (2017): Guerrilla is a six-part British drama miniseries set in early 1970s London, against the backdrop of the Immigration Act 1971 and British black power movements, such as the British Black Panthers and Race Today Collective. A plot is a love story set in the atmosphere of one of the most politically explosive times in UK history.

Hunger (2008): IRA fighters are struggling in a Northern Irish prison and setting up a hunger strike.

Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985): The film tells of two very different individuals who share a prison cell in Brazil during the Brazilian military government: Valentin Arregui, who is imprisoned (and has been tortured) due to his activities on behalf of a leftist revolutionary group, and Luis Molina, a transgender woman in prison for having sex with an underage boy

The Stanford Prison Experiment (2015): Stanford University psychology professor Philip Zimbardo conducts a psychological experiment to test the hypothesis that the personality traits of prisoners and guards are the chief cause of abusive behavior between them. In the experiment, Zimbardo selects fifteen male students to participate in a 14-day prison simulation to take roles as prisoners or guards [editors note: the original SPE's validity is questionable ]

In The Name Of The Father (1993): In the Name of the Father is Irish-BritishAmerican biographical courtroom drama film co-written and directed by Jim Sheridan. It is based on the true story of the Guildford Four, four people falsely convicted of the 1974 Guildford pub bombings, which killed four off-duty British soldiers and a civilian

Salvador (2006): Salvador (Puig Antich) is Spanish film directed by Manuel Huerga. It is based on the Francesc Escribano book Compte enrere. La història de Salvador Puig Antich, which depicts the time Salvador Puig Antich spent on death row prior to his execution by garrote (the last one by mean of this), under Franco’s Francoist State in 1974.

Sacco e Vazetti (1971): The story is based on famous events surrounding the trial and judicial execution of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two anarchists of Italian origin, who were sentenced to death by a United States court in the 1920s.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994): The Shawshank Redemption is a drama film based on the 1982 Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. It tells the story of banker Andy Dufresne, who is sentenced to life in Shawshank State Penitentiary for the murder of his wife and her lover, despite his claims of innocence.

Zero for Conduct (1933): The film draws extensively on boarding school experiences to depict a repressive and bureaucratised educational establishment in which surreal acts of rebellion occur, reflecting anarchist view of childhood.

Organizations and Projects

- TGI (Transgender, Gender Variant, and Intersex) Justice Project - TGI Justice Project is a group of transgender people—inside and outside of prison—creating a united family in the struggle for survival and freedom.

- The Anarchist Black Cross Federation - Federation of groups supporting prisoners, political prisoners and prisoners of war.

- Przeciwko Więzieniom_ A project of ABC Warsaw and virtual library of antiprison and anti-repression zines.

- Empty Cages Collective - organising against the prison industrial complex in the UK.

- Community Action Against Prison Expansion (CAPE) - Grassroots coalition of groups fighting prison expansion in the UK.

- The Incarcerated Workers Organising Committee - A union for the incarcerated fighting for prison abolition started by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Mostly in the US and the UK. Supported prisoners to organise the biggest prisoner work strike in history in September 2016.

- INCITE! - Activist organization of radical feminists of colour advancing a movement to end violence against women of colour and through direct action, critical dialogue and organizing.

- Critical Resistance - Building an international movement to end the prison industrial complex by challenging the belief that caging and controlling people makes us safe.

- Wild Fire - Anarchist Prisoner Solidarity project producing newsletters.

- The Audre Lorde Project’s Safe OUTside the System Collective - Organising efforts for community safety resisting police violence.

- Bent Bars Project - a letter-writing project for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, gender-variant, intersex, and queer prisoners in Britain.

- Generation Five - Organisation working to end child sexual abuse in five generations, from an abolitionist perspective.

- Sisters Inside - Australian based group who work from an abolitionist perspective

- A World Without Police - a collective of organizers from across the U.S. and internationally. We work to connect people struggling against the everyday violence of the police, and to provide practical, organizational and theoretical tools for use in our movement.

Anarchist News Sites

- It’s Going Down - a digital community center for anarchist, anti-fascist, autonomous anti-capitalist and anti-colonial movements.

- 325 - Anarchist/anti-capitalist information clearing house and DIY media network for social war.

- Contra-Info - is an international multilanguage counter-information and translation node, maintained by anarchists, anti-authoritarians and libertarians across the globe.

- Act for Freedom Now - News of insurrection and resistance from around the globe.

- Anarchist News - Non-sectarian source for news about and of concern to anarchists.

- Untorelli Press - Anarchist publishing project.

- Elephant Editions - Collection of ideas, dreams and experiments.

- Anarchist Library - Site that collates many publications for reading/download.

Anarchist Black Cross Groups Worldwide


- htttp:// – ABC Melbourne

- – ABC Oceania Austria

- – ABC Wien


- – ABC Belarus


- – ABC Rio de Janeiro


- – 4 Struggle Mag

- – ABC Toronto


- – Bogota CNA/ABC


- – ABC Czech

- – Antifenix solidarity campaign


- – ABC Brighton

- – ABC Bristol

- – Green and Black Cross


- – ABC Helsinki


- – Marseille ABC


- – Prisoner Solidarity Jena

- – ABC Rhineland

- – ABC Dresden

- – ABC Jena


- – ABC Derry

- – ABC Dublin


- – CNA/ABC Napoli


- – ABC Mexico


- – ABC Nijmegen


- – ABC Poznan and Warsaw


- – ABC Moscow.

- - ABC Moscow’s Twitter.

- - ABC St. Petersburg

- – ABC Irkutsk

- - Informational and solidarity campaign for anarchists and antifascists in Russia accused of forming a terrorist network


- – ABC Spain

- - Solidaritat rebel, a solidarity group for support accused anarchists in Aachen bank robbery case


- – ABC Stockholm

- – ABC Umeå


- – Anarchist Black Cross Federation

- – South Brooklyn ABC

- – Denver ABC



This zine is dedicated to Anna Campbell. Anna was killed by Turkish forces while fighting alongside Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) in the defence of Afrin in March 2018.

Anna was a dedicated member of Bristol Anarchist Black Cross and took her commitment to solidarity and mutual aid to her grave.

Rest in Power Anna

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ABC-Zine-Small-for-Download.pdf7.72 MB
The state and those that wish to destroy movements for liberation attack us on many levels. The Anarchist Black Cross network aims to build the infrastructure to be resilient to repression so that we can continue fighting for liberation and support comrades harmed by this state violence.
Anarchist Black Cross

General organising

This page contains basic information on running a political or campaign group democratically.

The more democratic a group or campaign is, the more effective it is, as all people involved can have an input and feel a part of the project.

Although often basic, this information is essential for the smooth-running of an organisation and sticking to these simple guidelines can make the difference between a long lasting successful group and a failure.

Below find tips on many aspects of organising, from facilitating meetings and financing your group, to structure and making decisions.

How to start a group

A basic guide to getting started with setting up a political or campaigning organisation.

There are four simple requirements for an effective organisation.

People is pretty self-explanatory. To have a group you need more than one person and really at least five before it becomes sustainable. For example, for an anarchist group, in most places anarchists are not very hard to come across. In most countries at least 1 in a 1,000 to 1 in 10,000 people might consider themselves an anarchist. So even in fairly small towns there are likely to be at least a dozen or so 'anarchists'.

Unfortunately the next step most groups take is to try and set up a group which includes just about everyone that adopts the label. This may seem like the logical thing but problems arise when we look at the next two requirements.

For a group to be effective it has to have a clear idea of what it is fighting for, not simply what it is fighting against. And it must agree what the best tactics are to use and that everyone in the group will use follow the agreed tactics. This will be discussed at length later.

In order to function an organisation needs a paper, leaflets, rooms to met in, money for mail-outs and a dozen other items that require lots of the green stuff. Ways of tackling this requirement include:

  • Ignoring it - Which means things only take place if someone is willing to fund them out of their own pocket. This is pretty common but if course results in things not getting done. It also gives the funder undue influence.
  • Use 'criminal' means to raise money - This sometimes happens but is generally not a good move as sooner or later people get caught and end up in prison or worse. What's more if you come under any sort of police investigation it will rapidly become apparent that your getting funds from some dodgy source which will in itself attract further investigation. It also gives the state a good excuse for a 'non-political' clamp down.
  • Organise fund raisers - Although this can work well for special purchases, like say a printing press if its used for regular bills (printing, rent etc.) it soon turns into a massive drag and waste of resources. You can spend half of the time discussing gigs etc. which is off-putting.
  • Membership levy/subs - This is what many groups use. For example members contribute 5% of their gross income on a weekly or monthly basis. A percentage system is fairer then a flat rate as an unemployed member (on ₤100 a week) pays ₤5 where as someone working and earning ₤500 a week pays at least ₤25. This gives an income to pay for a paper, magazine, leaflets, rooms and even to subsidise travel to demos for unemployed members. Of course it also has a negative effect on the first requirement - people - as some people may be unwilling to loose the equivalent of a couple of beers a week. Which brings us to the fourth requirement - commitment. Read more about financing your group

    The amount of work you do and the amount of money your willing to put in depends on you feeling good about the organisation. It is adversely affected if you feel you are being used, or that other people are not willing to contribute their share. That much is obvious. However its also true that your commitment will be dependant on how much you agree with what the group is doing/saying and whether the groups seems to be going somewhere or just treading water. It's easy to keep people around when lots of stuff is happening, the difficult thing is the periods in between bursts of activity.

    Some favour a high commitment oriented group over a 'as many people as possible' one. With time the high commitment group can come to involve a lot of people where as often the reverse is not true. Enough background, here's some concrete ideas.

    Find another four or five people that are willing to do something serious. You may know this many already if not get an address you can print on leaflets and start leafleting demo's etc. with anarchist stuff. Get a flag or a banner together. Maybe call a public meeting on a relevant issue see who turns up.

    Once you get your four or five people be prepared to spend a couple of years getting your act together before you start to expand. Agree on a membership levy and conditions of membership. Write down agreed perspectives and strategy for promoting anarchism and getting involved in activity. Start publishing a regular paper arguing these ideas. Sell it through bookshops, campaign meetings and demos. Get involved around struggles and develop respect for your group as good activists and people with good ideas. Don't concentrate on talking to anarchists, concentrate on talking to activists. Find out about the national groups and travel to nearby demos/ conferences. Make a banner you can bring on marches.

    Above all you need to be patient. A big problem is the 'revolution next year' syndrome where you hype yourself up to expecting a lot and then get disappointed when it does not materialise. Work out where you are going but be prepared to go there slowly, as I said above its likely to be two years before you get any serious return on your work. 2005
    This text is adapted from The Struggle Site.

  • Basic principles of revolutionary organisation

    A brief outline of basic points of agreement which we think are the minimum necessary to be the basis of potentially productive pro-revolutionary organisation.

    Communist: We are against all forms of capitalism whether private, state or self-managed. In its place we want a classless, stateless and moneyless society based on solidarity, co-operation and the principle ‘from each according to ability, to each according to need’ - a libertarian communist society.

    Class struggle: Capitalism is characterised by the creation of a class of people, dispossessed from the means of production and subsistence, who are required to work for a wage to get by. This condition pushes us to resist - to do less work, for more money. However, our employers want us to work more for less money to increase their profits. The struggle resulting from this contradiction sets our human needs and desires against those of capital. This struggle also lays the foundations for a new kind of society, based on the fulfilment of our needs. Opposing all discrimination and prejudice like sexism and racism by attempting to unite the working class is just as much a part of class struggle as striking for higher wages.
    Direct action and solidarity are the basis of working class strength. We support the actions of our class in our own interests. We are opposed to all those who claim to be our representatives, like the trade unions or political parties which seek to manage capitalism supposedly on our behalf.

    Internationalist: Our class is global and so should be our solidarity. We oppose all nationalist movements, whether openly conservative or supposedly progressive and ‘anti-imperialist’ in nature as both are based on the unity of workers with their rulers. We never take sides in wars between states or would-be states, instead always supporting mutiny, fraternisation and the working class fighting in its own interest.

    Everyday life: Whether waged or unwaged, it is our everyday activity as workers that reproduces capitalist society. And it is through disrupting this activity that we can challenge and eventually replace it. As such, our activity as radical workers should always be based primarily on issues rooted in our everyday lives and experiences.

    Organisations should feel free to use or adapt these to your own purposes.

    Coming up with a strategy and set of principles

    Advice and information on devising a basic political and strategic programme for your organisation.

    If you are going to be involved in struggles as an organisation (rather then a loose collection of individuals), and you want to have an influence on them that you will then need to act in unity. To do this you need to agree what it is your fighting for and what tactics you think that struggle or movement should be using.

    Furthermore, over the course of the last 150 years of working class struggles, many lessons can be learned about what sort of ideas and strategies have failed and which have been successful. It is important to learn these lessons and distil them into the theoretical foundation of your organisation, so that you don't end up repeating the mistakes of the past.

    We recommend, therefore, coming up with a basic set of aims and principles to your organisation which briefly and clearly outline your understanding of the world and how you believe you can go about changing it.

    Some find the best way of putting this together is to start by a process of education and discussion around some key issues or historical lessons and then move onto creating written policy that can be debated, amended and if necessary voted on point by point. We have a sample basic set of aims and principles for revolutionary organisations here, which you could use as a model to work from.

    The big advantage of this method is that once things are written down in this way it becomes very clear what exactly has been decided. But it should be understood that these positions should never be seen as 'the end' of a particular debate. They don't represent perfection but rather the best collective understanding and tactics the organisation could generate at that particular time. They should always be open to further debate and amendment as circumstances and knowledge changes. Although it is a good idea to limit major modifications to national conferences so when there is a lot of disagreement you don't end up doing anything but amending position papers!

    You'll also want to work out how much agreement you will expect new members to have with the aims and principles before they join. You could consider having a "supporter status" for your organisation so that sympathetic individuals can get involved even though there has not been time to educate them sufficiently on the intricacies of your ideas. 2010

    Decision making and organisational form

    An essay about different methods of organising for political groups, discussing the merits and downfalls of using consensus, chairs, majority voting and more.

    "Consensus" has had a certain popularity as a decision-making method among social change groups since the '60s, especially within the anti-nuclear movement but also in anarchist and radical feminist circles. I think we can understand why if we consider what sorts of organisations exist in this country. Mass organisations in which the membership directly shape the decisions are hard to find. How often have members been ruled "out of order" at union meetings by an entrenched official? Most leftist political groups also have a top-down concept of organisation, as befits their preoccupation with "leadership."

    On the other hand, this sort of alienation and lack of control appears absent in activities organised through small circles of acquaintances. Those who engage in an action together typically reached a common agreement after talking it over informally. This leads to the model of the small, informal group -- no written constitution, no chair of meetings, no elections for delegated tasks, no careful definition of jobs, no written minutes of meetings. Decisions are made by having an unstructured discussion until consensus is reached.

    But informality does not eliminate hierarchy in organisations; it merely masks it. To the insiders, everything appears friendly and egalitarian. But newcomers do not have the same longstanding ties to the group. And having no clear definition of responsibilities, and no elections of individuals who carry out important tasks, makes it more difficult for the membership to control what goes on.

    Fortunately, the "small, informal group" is not the only alternative to the dominant hierarchical model of organisation. It is possible to build a formal organisation that is directly controlled by its membership. Being "formal" merely means that the organisation has a written set of rules about how decisions are made, and duties of officers and conditions of membership are clearly defined. An organisation does not have to be top-down in order to be "formal" in this sense. A libertarian organisation would have a constitution that explicitly lays out a non-hierarchical way of making decisions.

    Delegating responsibilities
    Sometimes people have the idea that setting up elected positions with defined responsibilities is a "hierarchy," as if any delegation of responsibility creates a boss. Yet, informality does not avoid delegation since some people will inevitably do tasks on behalf of the group, such as answering correspondence or handling a bank account.

    It is possible to elect people to perform delegated tasks without creating a top-down organisation. Here are a few guidelines:

  • The scope of authority of an elected position, such as correspondence secretary or treasurer, should be explicitly defined and delimited, so that everyone knows what this person should be doing, and with the requirement of regular reports to keep the membership informed.
  • The person should be elected for a limited term, such as one year, and should be subject to recall at any time by majority vote of the membership (but with a requirement of adequate notice to ensure that this is not "sprung" all of a sudden by those members least favourable to the person currently doing the job).
  • If at all feasible, there should be a requirement of mandatory rotation from office. This is especially important for any position of acting as spokesperson or representative of an organisation or body of people. If an organisation is very small, however, it is sometimes difficult to rotate responsibilities. Even so, the person carrying out responsibilities can report regularly to membership meetings and can be thus directed by decisions of the membership.
  • Nobody is to be elected to set policy for the organisation, but only to carry out those responsibilities that have been assigned by the membership. The general membership meeting of the organisation must remain the supreme decision-making body and can over-rule any decisions of elected officers.

    The idea is that the main decision-making responsibility of the organisation is not to be delegated to some "steering committee" or executive but is conducted directly by the membership through their own discussions and votes; this is the heart of the libertarian concept of organisation.

    Since many authoritarian leftists define social change in terms of putting a particular leadership into power -- such as the Leninist concept of "the revolutionary party taking state power" -- it is no surprise that even organisations formed, or influenced, by authoritarian leftists may have a hierarchical set-up where the power to make decisions is concentrated in some executive board or steering committee. While libertarians oppose this practice, and pose the alternative of direct decision-making by the members or rank-and-file participants, it is, nonetheless, not necessary to oppose all delegation of tasks or responsibilities.

    The real question should be, "What is the relationship between those vested with responsibilities and the rest of the membership?" If the centre of decision-making lies in the general meetings, and those with responsibilities must report to these meetings, and are instructed by them, and (where possible) jobs are rotated, then we do not have a top-down structure, but an organisation where decision-making is from the bottom up.

    A chair is not a boss
    Often people who favour the "small, informal group" model of organisation also oppose the practice of electing someone to chair a meeting, even if the meeting is a larger gathering. It is easy to understand what they are afraid of. Consider union meetings where the chair is a paid official. He has certain entrenched interests to defend. To serve his ends, he may rule "out of order" motions from the floor on matters of concern to the rank and file, or manipulate the meeting in other ways.

    But here the problem is that there is an entrenched bureaucracy; chairing meetings is only one of the ways they control the organisation. The situation is different if the chair is elected at the beginning of the meeting by those present, and if the chair can be removed by majority vote at any time. Being chair of a meeting does not convert someone into a bureaucrat.

    I've sat through chairless meetings where people interrupt each other, voices get louder as people try to express themselves, discussions get side-tracked into numerous tangents, and important decisions are put off or hurriedly decided at the last minute. This experience has made me rather frustrated with the prejudice against having a chair of meetings.

    If a meeting only consists of a few people, then obviously it does not need to have a chair. But once meetings achieve a certain size, a chair becomes necessary in order to ensure that the meeting stays on track and moves through the agenda in a reasonable amount of time, while making sure that people have an opportunity to speak.

    I've heard opponents of chairmanship argue, "It's the responsibility of each individual to make sure that the meeting stays on track and individuals don't get out of hand." But even with the best of intentions, this is difficult to achieve in practice. When you're thinking about what you want to say next, it's hard to also be keeping track of whose turn it is to speak and of what the agenda is.

    The rationale behind having a chair is that we delegate to one person the responsibility to concentrate on such things as the agenda and the order of speakers while the rest of us are free to concentrate on what is being said. Of course, it can happen that a chair is manipulative, favouring one particular "side" in a matter under dispute. But in such a situation, a motion to replace the chair would be in order.

    The right to disassociate
    In working out a libertarian concept of organisation, we need to remember that the individual members not only have rights that must be respected by the organisation, they also have obligations to the rest of the membership. Since the majority have the right to control their own organisation, individuals must conduct themselves so as to respect this right of the majority.

    For example, if an individual makes public statements that claim to speak for the organisation, but state only the viewpoint of the individual, not a viewpoint actually discussed and agreed to by the majority, then that individual is acting irresponsibly and anti-democratically.

    There is, however, no reason why an individual should be required to stay mum publicly about disagreements within the organisation. As long as the individual makes clear that the stated viewpoint is his or her own, public disagreement with the position of the organisation is not irresponsible.

    A libertarian concept of organisation must allow for diversity of opinions. This means that members must try to maintain a climate of respecting the opinions of others in the organisation. But what happens when members do not respect the rights of others? What happens when members are threatening to others, or conduct themselves in ways that are very disruptive to the life of an organisation? In such a case the majority may have to consider disassociating themselves from that individual. In other words, the rights of the majority include the right to expel individual members.

    To some anarchists, expulsions are always a "purge." The authoritarian connotation of the latter term are meant to suggest that any expulsion is a violation of freedom, an illegitimate act. But the position of these anarchists is actually self-contradictory. For, it is a very basic libertarian principle that the membership of an organisation have the right to directly control it. And this means that no individual has the "right" to act in ways that prevent the majority from accomplishing the purposes for which they got together. If the majority in an organisation did not have the right to expel disruptive individuals, this would mean that they couldn't control the conditions of membership and direction of that organisation. Freedom of association implies the freedom to disassociate.

    On the other hand, the power to expel members should never be delegated to officials. For, if elected officers can expel members on their own, they can expel critics of how they are conducting their responsibilities. Expulsion certainly is used by officials in hierarchical organisations as a means of maintaining their top-down control. What is illegitimate in such cases is not the act of expulsion in itself, but the top-down way it is carried out.

    The point here is that individuals have obligations to the other members of an organisation. And the majority have the right to ensure that the responsibilities of membership are observed. But expulsion is a last resort, and should not be used lightly. Expulsion is something that the membership should decide on directly, in a general membership meeting or convention. And it should always be required that accused individuals be given advance notice and have the right to defend themselves before the general membership prior to a vote to expel.

    Talking until agreement is reached
    The partisans of informality also tend to be averse to voting as a way of making decisions. They prefer the process of talking until agreement is reached (or not reached). In my experience, this process tends to encourage informal hierarchy. That's because this process tends to heighten the influence of the more articulate and self-confident individuals, and tends to disenfranchise the shy newcomer, and the less articulate. Voting has the advantage that it is an equaliser. The shy and the aggressive, the articulate and the not-so-articulate, all can raise their hands, and each has only one vote.

    Advocates of consensus sometimes say that hierarchical organisation is the only alternative to consensus. But there is also the alternative of direct democracy where decisions are made by majority vote. Direct voting by the members puts the majority of members in control, and control by the majority of members is the opposite of hierarchy. In a hierarchical organisation, it is not the majority of members who are in charge but a few leaders at the top -- that is what "hierarchy" means.

    The libertarian idea of direct, democratic voting is quite different than the official concept of "democracy" in this society. "Democratic voting" typically means electing officials who then have all the power of making decisions. But that is really elective autocracy, not genuine democracy, which requires direct decision-making by the rank and file.

    Formal consensus
    Though "talking until agreement is reached" is the natural method of decision-making for "small, informal groups," not all advocates of consensus decision-making are averse to formal organisation. However, making the organisation formal -- a written constitution, definition of membership and so on -- does not eliminate the basic problems of the consensus process.

    The requirement of unanimity means that disagreements have to be talked out until verbal consensus emerges. This means that even a formal consensus system tends to heighten the influence of the more talkative, self-confident participants. Also, the requirement of consensus often leads to prolonged, marathon sessions, or meetings where nothing is decided.

    This aspect of consensus tends to make the movement less conducive to participation by working people, and tends to reduce participation to the hard-core activists. When people have other demands on their time (job, children, spouse), they will tend to be frustrated by meetings that are unnecessarily long, indecisive, or chaotic. Most people will want to have some sense that something will be accomplished, a clear decision made, and in a reasonable amount of time.

    In his pamphlet Blocking Progress, Howard Ryan describes a nightmarish example of what can happen with consensus.(1) Many people in the Livermore Action Group -- an anti-nuclear action group here in the Bay Area -- were uncomfortable with the first point of LAG's action guidelines which stated: "Our attitude will be one of openness, friendliness and respect toward all people we encounter." "A common sentiment", Ryan points out, "was that oppressed people often do not feel these things towards police or authorities and should not be required to feel them in order to join the [Lawrence-Livermore Laboratory] blockade." In 1982 there was a month-long discussion of this issue, followed by two full days of informal open debate. At the second of these assemblies it was proposed to replace the "friendly and respectful" language with "non-violent."

    Coming towards the end of this long process of discussion, there was a suggestion by one of the participants in the second meeting that a straw poll be taken to determine the general opinion in the room. This was itself considered so controversial that two hours were consumed in debating whether it was even okay to take a straw poll. Finally a poll was taken and the vote was 74 to 2 in favour of changing the non-violence code to remove the "respectful and friendly" language. One of the participants has described what then took place:

    One of the two people [a doctrinaire pacifist] blocked it. He was asked repeatedly to stand aside, to leave, to die. People were just so upset. He wouldn't budge and it was blocked.

    This is a good example of the elitist coercion that consensus permits.

    Consensus is anti-democratic
    The requirement of unanimity is anti-democratic. A small minority does not have the right to prevent the majority of members from doing what they want to do. Organisations are not of value in themselves but only as a vehicle for cooperation and collective activity. Insofar as consensus thwarts the majority from doing what it wants, it makes the organisation an ineffective vehicle for them. This can lead to splits and fragmentation -- exactly the result that the advocates of consensus say they want to avoid.

    The rules of an organisation can -- and must -- protect the rights of individuals and minorities. If one studies the situation in the AFL-CIO-type unions, and major political organisations, it is true that the rights of individuals and political minorities are often in a sorry state. But these are hierarchical organisations. It is the hierarchy, not "majority voting," that is the problem.

    Anarchists of the more individualistic persuasion argue that consensus is necessary to avoid "tyranny of the majority." But where in the real world does the majority have real power? The real tyrannies that people are fighting around the world are tyrannies of entrenched minorities, of governments and bosses. I don't want to claim that "majorities are always right" but I do believe that people have the right to make their own mistakes. The issue here is whether people have the right to control their own movements and organisations. To give a single individual or small minority the right of veto on decisions is to have a system of minority rule.

    Even when individuals or minorities do not actually threaten or use a block to keep the majority from doing what it wants, everyone is aware that they could, if the organisation is run by consensus. The structural requirement of unanimity puts pressure on the majority to placate small minorities in order to accomplish something. Often this leads to decisions that paper over disagreements and leave everyone dissatisfied.

    Rudy Perkins has described this problem, based on his experience in the Clamshell Alliance in New England in the late '70s:

    Majority rule is disliked because amongst the two, three or many courses of action proposed, only one is chosen; the rest are "defeated." Consensus theoretically accommodates everyone's ideas. In practice this often led to:

  • a watered down, lowest-common-denominator solution, or
  • the victory of one proposal through intimidation or acquiescence, or
  • the creation of a vague proposal to placate everyone, while the plan of one side or another was actually implemented through committees or office staff.

    In other words, within the anti-nuclear movement ideas are in competition and some do win, but under consensus the act of choosing between alternatives is usually disguised. Because the process is often one of mystification and subterfuge, it takes power of conscious decision away from the organisation's membership.(2)

  • Consensus puts pressure on minorities not to express misgivings or disagreements because their dissent would prevent the organisation from making a decision. Thus it actually becomes harder for minorities to state dissenting opinions because dissent is always a disruptive act. When decisions are made by majority vote, on the other hand, there is not this heavy "cost" to dissent and minorities can freely state their disagreement without thereby disrupting or blocking the organisation from reaching a decision.

    Consensus also means that it becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to change an organisation's orientation even when it is clear to most members that the current direction is failing. That's because there will almost always be a minority who will be against change, because the current direction of the organisation may have been what attracted them to it, or because they may simply prefer what they are used to.

    Simple majority
    "Simple majority" is the requirement of one vote more than half the votes cast in order to make a decision. A simple majority is the smallest number of votes needed to guarantee that a decision is made.(3)

    Advocates of simple majority sometimes hear the retort: "But do we want to have a major decision made with 51% for 49% against?" Decisions that organisations make in the course of conducting their affairs vary a lot in their relative importance to the participants. For some decisions, a narrow majority won't matter because those who voted "no" may not have really strong feelings one way or the other. If it is an important issue, though, it is clearly a problem if an organisation is closely split.

    Sometimes, in organisations that are based on membership participation and democratic voting, close votes will lead the group to stop and reconsider the issue in order to find a proposal that accommodates objections.

    More often, this process happens before it reaches a vote. When it becomes clear in the course of the discussion on a proposal that the membership are closely divided and have strong feelings on the issue, there is likely to be an effort to find a proposal that mitigates objections. For one thing, it is to the advantage of the proposal's partisans to have as much support as possible within the organisation. The work of the organisation is bound to suffer if it is badly split -- dissatisfied members may drag their feet or drop out.

    When a union conducts a strike vote, for example, the partisans of a strike will want to get the largest possible majority for a strike. If the vote for a strike isn't overwhelming, if there is only a narrow majority for striking, the union will be less likely to actually go out because the division among the workforce undermines the chances of winning a strike.

    Such considerations have at times led people to propose decision-making based on larger majorities, such as two-thirds or three-fourths. But the problem with this is that most of the decisions that organisations make are not so crucial that large majorities are needed.

    Moreover, stipulating a majority larger than 50% plus one means that decisions can be blocked by minorities. Though the minorities required to "block" a majority are larger than under consensus, this still permits minority control. A cohesive minority could exercise undue influence on a group due to its potential for blocking what the majority wants. Thus the arguments against consensus also apply to some extent against a formal requirement of two-thirds or three-fourths majority. The advantage to "simple majority" as a decision-making method is that it is the only way to formally preclude minority rule.

    There may be circumstances when it would be desirable to have a larger majority than 50% plus one -- as in those cases where the organisation is closely split on important issues. But instead of trying to make a formal rule for this, I think this should be dealt with by the membership using good sense in such situations. Not everything that is desirable for an organisation can be created by formal rules.

    The conditions required for the healthy and democratic functioning of an organisation go beyond the formal rules. Whether the rights of members are respected also depends on the climate in the organisation. How people treat each other is an informal factor but it is just as important as clauses in constitutions.

    There is usually some sort of underlying, informal consensus in almost any organisation. To take an obvious example, there needs to be a consensus that disagreements are not settled by punching someone out. So, there does need to be a consensus on some things, on certain basic assumptions that underlie the unity of the organisation. The advocates of "consensus decision-making" are correct in perceiving this, but where they go wrong is in trying to elevate this into a general principle of decision-making so that everything requires a consensus. The consensus system puts day-to-day decisions, on the one hand, and the most important decisions, fundamental purposes and ways of treating each other, on the other hand, all on the same level.

    Small groups, no power
    However, consensus does often work reasonably well in small groups, especially where the participants have a common background and shared assumptions. Some people might maintain that small, independent groups are all that is needed.

    Indeed, some partisans of the small group have argued that "bigness" inevitably brings bureaucracy in movements and that only small, independent groups can be genuinely controlled by their members. This ignores the methods that libertarians have developed for avoiding top-down control in mass organisations (such as the guidelines I mentioned earlier), and the examples of libertarian mass unions that functioned through assemblies, without an entrenched bureaucracy; organisations like the Industrial Workers of the World back in the '10s or the Spanish National Confederation of Labour (CNT) in the '30s.

    If the "bigness means bureaucracy" dogma were true, a libertarian society would be impossible. To have a society organised along anarchist lines means that there must be a means by which the whole populace can participate in making crucial decisions affecting society as a whole. For this to happen it must be possible to have large organisations, organisations spanning vast areas, such as the North American continent, that are able to function in a non-hierarchical way, directly controlled by their rank and file participants.

    If the whole society could be organised to make decisions through direct democracy and mass participation, as anarchists advocate, then surely it must be possible for people to build mass organisations that are run this way today. If not, then how could a libertarian society be brought into existence? Only a mass movement that is itself organised non-hierarchically could create a society free of top-down, bureaucratic, exploitative social relations.

    This brings us to the clearest problem with the "small groups" doctrine: Small groups have no power. The power to change society requires a mass movement, and the development of solidarity among working people on a large scale. To unite people from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, to coalesce the various groups into a real movement, to pool resources, mass organisations are needed. In the absence of a larger movement, small groups can be discouraged by their own lack of resources and sense of isolation.

    Unless working people can organise their solidarity into mass organisations, they will not be able to develop the power to challenge our very powerful adversaries -- the corporations and their government. Without a mass movement, most people will not develop a sense that they have the power to change society. Our ideal of social change in the direction of democratic participation and workers control will appear to most people as merely a "nice idea, but impractical." Only the strength of a mass movement can convince the majority that our vision of a society run by working people is feasible.

    1. Howard Ryan, Blocking Progress: Consensus Decision Making in the Anti-Nuclear Movement, 1983, published by the Overthrow Cluster of the Livermore Action Group. Ryan's pamphlet makes a number of the same arguments against consensus that I am making here.
    2. Rudy Perkins, "Breaking with Libertarian Dogma: Lessons from the Anti-Nuclear Struggle," Black Rose, Fall 1979, p. 15.
    3. If we were to allow a decision to be made when half vote for a proposal, then it might happen that half vote for proposal A and half vote for proposal B. And what if A and B are conflicting proposals? Requiring one vote more than half guarantees that a single solution is decided upon. 2005
    This text is adapted from Tom Wetzel's original article entitled On Organisation.

  • Financing a group

    Finance is one of the most essential things to get right when setting up a group. This articles highlights some basic finance strategies and argues that the best method to use a system based on a membership subscription.

    Subscription membership is where all members are required to contribute a percentage of their (gross) income on a weekly or monthly basis. A percentage system is fairer then a flat rate as an unemployed member (on ₤100 a week) pays ₤5 where as someone working and earning ₤500 a week pays at least ₤25.

    In richer countries this should provide enough money to run an organisation without the need for additional fund raising for routine use. However in serious organisations outside of the richer world it is not unusual for members of a small group to have to donate much larger percentages of their income in order to keep their group functioning! For this reason if your are in the richer world you might like to set aside a percentage of the groups income as an international solidarity fund.

    Each local section of the group will need a treasurer to keep track of the payment of subs and to keep track and account for any expenditure by the local section. These accounts should be available for any member to inspect although in terms of income you might want to decide that while individual subs should be listed no name should be attached to each item. This is essential as suspicion over the misuse of funds can easily destroy a group.

    On a regional/national basis National conference should decide that a certain percentage of each branch's income (perhaps 50%) should go to a national account and supervised by a national treasurer. This national account can be used to pay for national expenditure (printing of papers, books etc), perhaps helping small branches with low income/unemployed members to carry out regular activity, and helping individual branches faced with local opportunities to make the most of them. Again these accounts should be open to inspection by all members and a summary listing major items should be regularly circulated to all members. 2005
    Adapted from the Struggle Site.

    Getting the Word Out: Guide to Promoting Events

    Across the world, anarchists and autonomous anti-capitalists are constantly at work putting on different kind of events where they live for the purpose of bringing people together, engaging the public with new ideas, and also raising money and building capacity for a wide variety of groups and projects.

    In this column, we’re going to discuss some basic ideas about how to promote events and by this we mean gatherings and happenings that take place in a set setting which usually feature some sort of activity that takes about 2-4 hours. This could be a speaker, panel, film, presentation, or workshop. Larger examples would benefit events, music shows, conferences, and festivals.

    Our goal with this specific column will be to discuss how to get more people to come out to your events and how to in turn, build up your group and affinities through organizing them.

    Keeping Goals In Mind

    As with anything, we first have to think about what our goals are when we organize events. First and foremost, we are looking to meet new people through organizing in our community, people that we then can begin to build affinity and relationships with into the future. Hosting and putting on events allows us the space to begin to make these connections, as well as form alliances with other groups, educate and organize those around us, and also fundraise to sustain our projects.

    We also have to specifically think about the event we are working on in terms of goals. Does the event represent an intervention on our part in the wider context of a tension, a struggle, or an unfolding reality around us? Does the event intend to bring out people from the community and or neighborhood, or just the same set of friends that always show up? Will there be childcare at the event and will it be accessible to people of all ages and abilities? Will the event be a success for the group that is coming through giving a presentation? These are all things to keep in mind.

    Form teams to go out and promote your event in your neighborhood and wider community.

    After the event is over, there are also many questions to ask. Did it go well? Were there any problems? How was security? How was the turnout? How much money did you raise? Was there any problems with the police or fascists? Did the crew organizing the event do a good job facilitating and running the event? Did people who said they were going to bring food show up? What could have gone better next time? A post-event debrief often can allow people the opportunity to address these topics and learn from potential mistakes and celebrate successes.

    Making Flyers and Promotional Materials

    With these goals in mind, a big part of getting the word out is having the right promotional materials. In this section, will will focus on real life, printed materials. And, whether you are a graphic artist or can barely work a photo filter, the good news is that there are a lot of free online programs that will give you the ability to easily make snazzy flyers and images to promote your events both online and offline. Here are some basic online tools that are free to help you promote your events, and while we encourage people to learn how to use Photoshop and Indesign, if you don’t have access to these programs, here are some easy alternatives.

    - Pixlr: An online free image editing web app. Think of it as a basic form of photoshop that works a lot like Instagram. This program is perfect for making images to share on social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just upload an image and then use the filters and effects to make the photo look how you want. Crop and change the size to fit the dimensions you need, and you can also add text to make it look like an actual flyer with info.

    There are many places online where you can make great looking promotional materials for social media and to print out.

    - BeFunky: Another free online image editor. This also has a collage maker that is really cool.
    - Audiogram: Audiogram allows you to make short videos for Twitter and Facebook that includes a static background image with music and audio speech played over it, with text optional. This is the perfect tool to announce events and add flare to social media about your event. You will need to sign up with email for this one, but it is free.

    - Canva: Free flyer making web app. Requires email but is free to use.
    - Audacity: Free open source program for making podcasts and recording music. Use this program to record audio sections for Audiogram or other video programs to share online.

    Offline Promotion

    In this digital age, people often forget about promoting events offline, however we are in the opinion that just doing online promotion can often be a mistake, and that to ensure the highest degree of turnout, both online and offline promotion is best. Here are some basic ways to promote your events that don’t involve the internet:

    - Putting up flyers in businesses windows. Getting a flyer up in a well trafficked store window is a great place to advertise your event. Places like grocery stores, corner/liquor stores, coffee shops, restaurants and smoke shops also often have bulletin boards or places to put down free publications or flyers. Bring tape with you to make it easier on the workers to say yes and be prepared for them to say no or, “I’ll have to ask my manager.” Make a mental note of establishments that say yes and be ready come back to the same spot with the next flyer.
    - College campus and community bulletin boards. Campuses and other public places often have bulletin boards for promoting events.

    - Hand out quarter sheet flyers and leave them around town. Quarter sheets are simply small flyers that fit four to a page on an 8.5″ by 11″ sheet of paper. These are great for handing out on the street, putting in newspapers, handing out at events, or leaving a stack for people to grab in various spots. Some great places to hand out flyers is at the skate park, farmers market, corner and liquor stores in their free area/newspaper racks, coffee shops, grocery stores, and in front of well trafficked places like Wall-Mart, on campuses, places where students get out of school, the DMV, etc.

    A combination of promotion online and offline for events often is needed for a greater turn out.

    - Put up posters everywhere. Making flyers and posters will definitely help promote your event and can be put up on phone polls and around neighborhoods. Get a team and go wheatpasting, or simply get some tape or a staple gun.
    - Try and get the event listed in the local newspaper or alternative weekly if you think that is a smart thing to do. Many newspapers have an event calendar and will add your event if you email them.
    - Get creative! Put up banners, sandwich boards, go door knocking, leave flyers on cars, hold an info-point, and come up with other ways of telling people about the event.
    - Go to group meetings and other functions and announce the event, hand out flyers.
    - For music events and festivals, for not that much money you can get slick card stock flyers made.
    - For big events, hit up local radio stations to get the event announced on the air.
    - If you feel it is worth it, issue press releases to local journalists to get the event covered in the newspaper. Generally, getting a story written before hand (thus encouraging people to attend the event) is better than a write up afterwards.

    A Few Tips for Online Promotion

    While social media dominates our lives and we are bombarded with event announcements throughout the day, here are some tips for promoting events on social media.

    - On your social media accounts, make sure you clearly state where and when an event is taking place. Don’t assume that people know where you are talking about. Also including contact information and a website will also help. Make sure your event announcements are clear and also have images and video if possible.
    - If you set up a Facebook event page, make sure to share it often, encourage people to invite their friends, and post often on to the page to encourage people to come out to the event, promote, download flyers, etc. Also, make sure that you set the list of people attending the event to PRIVATE, this can be done on the desktop, by EDITING the event page and make sure that the event listing is set to PRIVATE. In the past, police and fascists have used open event lists to harass people.
    - For bigger events, make sure to reach out to [i]IGD[/i] and your local counter-info page to promote your event on This Is America, as a post on their site, and to share on social media.

    Building Capacity for Events

    Events serve many purposes. They create a social environment where people come together and discuss ideas and form new bonds. They also create an atmosphere where new people can meet each other and get plugged into a broader network. But events also give established crews and groups something to organize around. Here are some ideas for building up your group’s capacity (for ideas on how to form a group, go here) to put on and promote events:

    - When you plan events, as a group go over what roles people will play and what they will do. Who will run the door, collect money, create a flyer and make social media, introduce the speaker, do security, etc.
    - Plan as a group to go out and flyer and promote the event.
    - Develop a network of people who can flyer and promote events in different neighborhoods, thus spreading the work around and covering as much ground as possible.
    - When your group tables at events or meets, make sure to have lots of flyers on hand for people to take. This way, you are building towards the next event and giving people materials to take with them to promote.
    - Create and maintain an email list, text blast, and social media accounts which can help bring people out to new events.
    - If you are able, consider making a publication or newsletter or website to also promote your events, this way people will have a go to place to learn about what the next upcoming event is.

    Closing Thoughts on Breaking Out of Subculture

    One thing we should keep in mind when promoting events, is that we often have a tendency to only do outreach and promotion in certain areas, neighborhoods, and cultural spaces. But if we only do outreach and event promotion at certain coffee shops, punk shows, and bookstores, we will ensure that only people that frequent those spaces attend our events. This is why promoting events in a variety of working class and poor neighborhoods is important if we are to grow as a movement.

    We must remember that not everyone has the ability to come out to events and spend several hours of their day listening to a speaker or watching a film. Work, lack of child care, no access to transportation, and plain exhaustion often keep people from coming out to events. Addressing these real life barriers is important: providing childcare and rides can be vital in allowing people the ability to attend events, just as is providing a meal.

    Let’s also work to rethink what an ‘event’ supposedly has to be. Success just doesn’t have to just look like a packed room at the local infoshop or autonomous community center, it could be a block party, a film projected in the park, a festival outside, or a table set up somewhere in a local park or outside the social services office. Workshops and presentations can take place anywhere, so if we know our audience, there’s nothing stopping us from going to where people are already.

    Lastly, lets keep in mind that spaces and groups can be intimidating to new people. Most people already have a perception in their head about what a group full of rabble rousers will look and act like – and often people are afraid to get mixed up in anything that might get them in trouble. With that in mind, we have to work at being personable and real with people, both on the streets, at work, and in our communities, in our autonomous spaces, and in our day to day organizing. With these realities and tensions in mind, we can move forward and work to overcome the real obstacles put in front of us.

    Here’s to hoping your next event is a smash hit!

    Work, lack of child care, no access to transportation, and plain exhaustion often keep people from coming out to events. Addressing these real life barriers is important: providing childcare and rides can be vital in allowing people the ability to attend events, just as is providing a meal.
    It's Going Down

    Handling difficult behaviour in meetings

    This guide covers some typical behaviour types a facilitator may come across in group or campaign meetings. We list the behaviour type, suggest a reason and some solutions to tackle the problem.

    The heckler
    One of the most common behaviours, the heckler is often aggressive, argumentative and gets satisfaction from provoking others. First off don't let him or her upset you - stay calm. Try to find merit in one of his/her points; express your agreement, and then move on to something else.

    The one who won't shut up
    Overly talkative often fall into one of four categories: an "eager-beaver"; a show-off; someone very well-informed who is eager to use their knowledge; someone just plain talkative. Some ideas to try and deal with this kind of person include, waiting until he/she takes a breath; then thank him/her and say something like "Lets hear from someone else." Try slowing the person down with a difficult question. If he/she makes an obvious misstatement of facts, toss the comment back to the group and let them correct the person. In general, let the group take care of him/her as much as possible, but often as a facilitator you will need to cut the talkative person short in their ramblings and move the discussion on.

    The cynic
    The cynic may have a particular problem with a certain issue, or may just gripe at random, for the sake of complaining. In some cases they may have a legitimate complaint. To try and make the meeting more useful try to point out that the purpose of the meeting is to find better ways to do things by constructive cooperation. In some cases, it may help to have a member of the group answer instead of you.

    The silent one
    People who don't talk in meetings may be bored, feel themselves superior to what's being discussed or maybe timid, shy or uncertain. While obviously its more productive if everyone chips in their opinion its worth remembering that if someone doesn't want to speak (for example at their first meeting) you shouldn't force them. Some things you could do to get quiet people talking are: arousing interest by asking directly for his/her opinion, asking for his/her view after indicating respect for his/her experience (but don't overdo this!) or compliment or encourage him/her the first time he/she talks. But most importantly work to foster a non-intimidatory atmosphere in meetings where everyone feels equal and valued.

    The egos
    Its not always that debates get to heated or the people are egoists, sometimes people's personality's just clash and they don't get along. To calm things down try to compliment the individuals on their enthusiasm and participation, but ask them to focus on constructive solutions. Emphasise points they agree on. Work to bring the rest of the group back into discussion, by throwing them a question to balance things out.

    The chatty couple
    People having side conversations can sometimes be a problem in meetings, they may be commenting on the discussion, or may be having a personal conversation. Try reminding the person what you are meant to be doing, pointing out that there is a debate going on etc. You could try drawing them back into the meeting by asking an easy question and recapping what has just been discussed.

    The one who is defiantly wrong
    If what someone is saying is totally incorrect they may be confused about the issue or could have been misinformed. Tactfully restate what they were saying to try and show how it may be incorrect, or acknowledge their contribution but leave the debate open so as someone else in the group can provide correct information. 2005
    This text is adapted from the original by the uhc-collective.

    How to organise and facilitate meetings effectively

    Advice and tips on how to organise meetings which fulfil their purpose efficiently.

    One thing central to any functional group is regular meetings. In a healthy organisation almost all decisions will be made at these meetings and there will be a sufficient level of discussion to ensure all those attending have a good idea of the activity and arguments in the different struggles the organisation is involved in. Meetings might also have some time given over to education.

    Before the meeting
    Make sure everyone knows the time and place
    A new group or one engaged in a lot of activity should meet at least once a week, at the same time and day. It helps to establish a consistent meeting day, time and location, as soon as possible so people can make it a habit. If they have to search for you or keep track of an ever-changing meeting time, they're far more likely to forget or not to bother. You'll want a space that's private enough for you to have strong disagreements in and where only the members of the group will be while you are using it. This could mean a private room in a quiet pub that would be glad for the additional customers on quiet nights!

    Develop an agenda
    An agenda gives people time to plan, to think over things that will be discussed, to do assignments and bring necessary information and materials. It doesn't have to be set in stone - you can always add and adjust as needed, even during the meeting.

    The agenda can be printed and distributed, either in advance or at the meeting. Or, it can be written on a chalkboard or whiteboard where everyone can see it. This helps keep people on topic and lets them know what will be covered and when. If its known who is chairing the meeting in advance it may be a good idea for that person to start the meeting with a suggested agenda.

    An agenda should include all of the following items that apply to your group:
    1. Additions and approval of the agenda,
    2. Reading, corrections, and approval of the previous meeting's minutes,
    3. Announcements and correspondence to be dealt with,
    4. Treasurer's report,
    5. Committee reports,
    6. Unfinished business (issues left over from previous meetings),
    7. New business.
    If there is any disagreement over the order of the agenda then this should be quickly discussed and voted on at the start of the meeting. If the chair thinks there is a lot to get through it may make sense to set a maximum amount of time that can be spent discussing particular topics right at the start of the meeting.

    Make sure the room is open and set up properly
    Have you ever arrived at a meeting only to find the door locked, and everyone had to stand around waiting while the facilitator scrambled to find the key? Or have you ever been in a meeting where there weren't enough chairs, and each time a latecomer arrived, they had to interrupt and search for one and move it in? Not especially effective ways of inspiring confidence and credibility or getting things done efficiently, are they? Try and arrange the room so that everyone sits in a circle and make sure you are seated where you can see everyone.

    During the meeting
    Start as you mean to continue
    Make sure you start on time. This is especially important for newcomers, who can get a bit put-off by the meeting start time being increasingly pushed back while people chat or wander around. First thing to do is make sure everyone knows who everyone else is. As clichéd as it may be - have a 'go-round' and get people to say their names and maybe a bit of other info about themselves. Next up make sure someone has volunteered to facilitate the meeting (who will have the agenda, and make sure the meeting flows smoothly) and someone else is taking decent notes of the meeting. Its important that the same people don't end up doing these tasks every meeting, perhaps the best way to tackle this is to have a list of everyone willing to chair and each week take the next person on the list.

    Minute taking
    Someone should be responsible every week for keeping minutes of the meeting and preparing these to be read at or distributed before the next meeting. Minutes need not be very detailed (you don't need to write down what everyone says). They should aim to include:
    1. Who attended the meeting,
    2. Topics discussed,
    3. Decisions reached for each topic,
    4. Who has volunteered to do what,
    5. Items to be discussed at next meeting (and when that will be). Read more on taking minutes

    Encourage group discussion to get all points of view
    Turn questions back to the group for their input. Ask people to comment on something just said. Compliment people on their ideas and thank them for their input. Ask open-ended questions. You may need to ask the more quiet people for their thoughts, and tactfully interrupt the longwinded ones to move the discussion along. Encourage people who just want to agree with a previous speaker to say "ditto" rather than taking the time to repeat her/his point.

    Stay on top of things
    It's part of your job as facilitator to manage the traffic and help the discussion move along. If several people are trying to talk at once, ask them to take turns. It helps to have a pen and paper to hand for when things get busy- jot down people's names in the order they raised their hands. It can be a good idea to let people who have not spoken yet to skip the queue and put them at the top of your list. Make sure everyone gets their turn and things keep moving - you might have to start asking some people to keep it short! Often a discussion can become dominated by a couple of speakers, try and avoid this situation by inviting the rest of the people to contribute (going round in a circle and asking for people's views can help).

    If the discussion is getting off-topic (i.e. it strays from the agenda), point this out and redirect it back on course. If someone is getting hostile, argumentative, or needlessly negative, tactfully intervene and try to turn the discussion in a more constructive direction. If necessary, ask the group to agree to a time limit on a discussion that might take too long. You might want to agree to limit each speaker's time, or say that no one can speak a second time until everyone has spoken once.

    If the group is spinning its wheels and people are only repeating themselves, restate and summarise the issues and ask if people are near ready to make a decision on the subject. If it just doesn't seem that the group can make a good decision right now, suggest tabling the matter until another time. You may want to ask someone to bring back more information, or form a committee to work on the issue.

    Don't use your position as facilitator to impose your personal ideas and opinions on the group
    If you have strong feelings on a particular issue, you may want to step aside and let someone else facilitate that discussion. At the very least, keep your own comments to a minimum, try to let others speak first, and identify them as your personal beliefs, outside of your role as facilitator. Avoid criticising the ideas of others - your position gives your comments undue extra weight.

    Non-verbals are important, too
    Be attentive to people who are speaking - look at them, lean forward, smile, nod. Make eye contact with people who may need encouragement to speak. Pay attention - people who are less confident about speaking will often indicate that they want to speak in minor way (e.g. briefly half put up their hand). A good chair will spot this and encourage them to speak

    Don't be afraid of silence
    It's a very useful tool. It gives people a chance to consider and collect their thoughts. It may encourage someone to voice a comment they've been thinking about but hesitant to say.

    Guide the discussion toward closure
    Restate people's comments to make sure everyone understands their point. Ask for clarification. Summarise what has been accomplished or agreed and what is left to resolve. Suggest when it's time to wrap up and make decisions or take action.

    Decision making
    Arguments about how best to reach decisions are fundamental to anarchism. You may wish to leave time for discussion in the hope of being able to reach consensus, only then moving to a vote, or you may wish to go straight to the vote. If time permits it may make sense to postpone making a contentious decision to the next meeting to give people a chance to think things over (and calm down!). Read more on decision making

    Take time at the end of the meeting to process
    Reflect on what went well and what people appreciate about others' input and actions. Check out assumptions. Encourage people to share any lingering concerns or things that just don't sit right.

    End on time
    Nothing makes people dread and avoid meetings more than knowing they're likely to go on and on and consume far more of their time than they want to give. Set a time to end the meeting at the very beginning and stick to it!

    After the meeting

    Make sure the minutes will be written up, organised and then distributed among those who attended within a reasonable time scale.

    Follow up with people.
    Thank them for their input. Make sure they understand assignments and have what they need to do them.

    Now you're done you can start getting ready for the next meeting! 2005
    This text is adapted from work by Mary McGhee and The Struggle Site.

    Successful delegation guide

    Tips and advice on delegating tasks to different people.

    1. Be specific...
    It's easy to give someone a vague assignment ("You take care of publicity") only to find out later that what they understood this to mean is very different from what you intended. People need to know what tasks they're responsible for and what the finished product should look like. Example: "Prepare a press release and send it to the local newspapers, TV and radio one month before the event."

    2. ...but don't micromanage
    Tell them enough so they understand what's expected of them, but not so much that they have no chance to think for themselves. Leaving the person room to make some independent decisions lets them choose a style of doing things that suits them best. It makes them feel respected and trusted and part of the team. It builds a greater sense of pride and ownership in the project, and it gives them a chance to develop their skills and confidence. They might not do the outstanding job that you think you would have, but it might still be good enough--and the benefits to the person doing it are probably worth the tradeoff. So learn to let go!

    3. Agree on deadlines
    Make sure the person understands when they can expect things they need from other people, when their part of the task needs to be done, and how this fits in with the larger timeline for the whole project.

    4. Follow up
    Check back with the person you've delegated to, to find out how it's going. Ask if any questions have come up since you last talked. Make sure they have what they need to do the job, and that they're getting the necessary assistance and cooperation from others. Sometimes people are reluctant to admit they didn't understand something, or that they're having trouble. Asking gives them an opening and permission to say so. It's also a way of finding out if someone simply isn't doing the job, before it's too late.

    5. Match assignments with people's skills...
    Some people write well, but hate to talk on the phone. Some people can schmooze anything out of anybody, while others would rather do anything besides ask for donations. Find out what people are good at, and what they like to do, and make the most of it.

    6. ...but don't let people get typecast against their will
    People with particular skills (artistic, computer, etc.) often get stuck with the same jobs over and over, because they do them so well. If they like it that way, that may be fine (although you might want to encourage them to stretch a bit and do something unfamiliar once in a while). But they may be more than ready for a change--and someone else may be just waiting for a chance to do "their" job.

    7. Make sure assignments get handed out fairly and realistically
    Most groups have at least one workhorse who tends to take on too much--sometimes to the point of exhaustion and burnout. Another problem is the person who gets carried away with the enthusiasm of a moment and volunteers for things, then finds her/himself unable to follow through. Encourage people to take a realistic look at their workload and abilities, and to take on the jobs they can reasonably handle.

    8. Give accurate and honest feedback
    People want to know how they're doing, and they deserve your honest opinion. Praise effort and good work, but also let them know where they might have done better. Encourage risk-taking and growth by treating mistakes and less-than-successful efforts as a chance to learn and do better next time. 2005

    Taking meeting minutes guide

    A guide to taking minutes of meetings effectively, to record and monitor your decisions and activities and keep people informed.

    Minutes of meetings form a historical record of a group's work. They serve as a record of decisions and details when people's memories fail or when they disagree. They remind people of assignments they've taken on and deadlines they need to meet. They inform those not present of what happened at the meeting. They give future members of the organisation a way to build on past successes and avoid reinventing the wheel.

    Some groups designate one person to take the minutes at every meeting; others rotate the job. Do what works best for your group, as long as the information gets recorded and preserved somewhere.

    The minutes of a meeting should include the following (if they apply to your particular group and your meetings):

  • Date, time and place of meeting.
  • List of people attending, and any members who were absent.
  • Time the meeting was called to order.
  • Approval of the previous meeting's minutes, and any amendments.
  • Summary of reports, announcements, and other information shared.
  • Proposals, resolutions, motions, amendments, a summary of the discussion, and final disposition (if you are using formal parliamentary procedure, record who made the motion and who seconded it).
  • Time of adjournment.
  • Next meeting date, time and location.
  • Name of person taking the minutes.

    Motions and resolutions should be recorded verbatim and should be read back during the meeting to make sure they have been accurately transcribed.

    Summarise the discussion, capturing key points and decisions reached. When someone takes on an assignment, a deadline is set, or other important agreements are reached, make sure to record them. This will serve as a reminder when the minutes are read later on.

    Separate fact from opinion. Facts are objective and indisputable; opinions are personal views. Take this sentence: "The low turnout for the event could be due to poor advertising." Whose idea is this? Attribute opinions to their source (e.g. "Jane suggested that..." or "The group concluded that...")

    Sometimes, it can be helpful to distribute the minutes before the next meeting. This gives people a reminder of assignments and deadlines, as well as when and where the next meeting is.

    Distribute copies and read the minutes near the beginning of the next meeting. Any corrections or additions should be recorded in the minutes of that meeting. The group should then approve the minutes, meaning that they agree that they are accurate and complete, either as read or as amended. 2005
    This text is adapted from the original by Mary McGhee.

  • Winning Phone Zap Campaigns: An Interview with Oakland IWOC

    Call-in campaigns, also known as “phone zaps,” have become an often used tool in a growing number of people’s tool boxes. Whether calling into prisons to get someone out of solitary or to restore access to the outside world, against slumlords in tenant battles, to get workers rehired, or attempts to get fascists fired, more and more groups are using the tactics in broader struggles.

    Wanting to know more about how people can better organize their call-in campaigns, as well as some success stories, we reached out to someone at Oakland Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) about the tactic to get some tips.

    IGD: Just what are phone blast actions or “phone zaps”?

    Oakland IWOC: So “phone blasts” are pressure actions using phone calls and emails that target public or private figures or institutions in power. It’s a tactic that’s been used by all sorts of movements and campaigns from housing fights, to anti-policing campaigns to prisoner support, but right now I’ll speak most on prisoner support actions because that is what I’m primarily involved in and also an arena where phone pressure is especially effective.

    The general idea: landlords, city council members, corporations and yes, prison officials operate out of offices that still depend on phone access for doing business. Their business routinely if not implicitly involves fucking people over and flooding offices with phone calls effectively blocks a portion of their ability to operate plus it often punctuates its message by driving an office to pure bedlam. It’s not like writing a letter to your congressperson – no one is making an appeal to established power. We aren’t engaging in dialogue but inducing a bit of crisis to shift power to ourselves. Think of it as a DDOS attack but an old thyme one that uses phone calls instead of server hits to bring down a target.

    This bit of operational crisis helps extract concessions or push back on repression or any other bullshit that doesn’t stand up well in the light of day. We’ll talk a bit more about how some of this plays out specifically later.

    IGD: What are some of the big mistakes you are seeing people make in terms of how they are organizing call-in campaigns. Or in other words, how could they be more effective?

    Oakland IWOC: We’ll instead of getting all negative and ripping on some examples of how this tactic has been poorly deployed, we can instead talk about the foundation of a successful action over just highlighting a slice of the possible mistakes.

    The Phonezap Basics!

    A clear, concise call to action: You are speaking most likely to supporters or allies who don’t need your polemic or additional convincing. If there is a lot of additional background to convey, you can link or reference another article or post for those who need it. A giant rambling wall of text turns off motivation and engages next to no one.
    A sample script: Plenty of people are self-conscious and a bit reluctant to call authority figures at some hostile institution and throwing out an example of a possible brief message not only helps convey what the talking points are that need to be delivered but reassures possible participants and gives them something to follow or expand on.
    Multiple numbers to call: After all sorts of these phone actions, we’ve found that once we have someone’s attention and commitment to participate, that once they take the time to call one number they will also call three numbers while they are at it. We rank them in order of importance and most importantly, we test them. When doing research finding targets and numbers to call within an institution, call them and make sure the numbers are still active and correct. Nothing worse than trying to build a campaign, sending out a thousand emails with wrong or dead numbers on them. Also, when all sorts of people are calling and taking over these offices with calls, it is often hard to get through. Give people a selection of numbers to call and they will keep trying, jumping from one number to the next – more calls land, more voicemail boxes get filled, and more pressure is applied.
    ADVANCE NOTICE!: Sometimes a quick response feels like a must, but what is better – calling for something overnight and getting a dozen calls? or taking 3 days to research, muster support and promote a blast that nets a 100 calls? People have lives and politically active people get sent a additional requests for their time or money everyday. Advance notice and dogged promotion help make an easily lost request into an event that looks worthwhile and actually is strategic, thoughtful and supported. Like with any online outreach or social media campaign, consider when people are logged on or how they stay in touch. Use multiple channels – social media, email listservs, text messages, face to face meetings, etc. Get the call out in front of them multiple times. It’s a hectic world overloaded with media – you gotta cut through all that.
    Set a target time window: Set a day to shut that office down. Calls trickling in over a week don’t really make an impression at all or shut anything down. And make that request for a supporters time as concrete as possible so as to hook their participation and also involve them in an event. During the blast there will be periodic updates to get people feedback on just what their calls are achieving. Make it into A Thing.
    Good targeting: You want to pick targets that will feel the pressure and are in some way vulnerable. Phone zaps for prisoners involves dealing with state bureaucracies and prison administrations. Withing these institutions they got people who are basically paid to lie and take abuse. Fuck bothering to talk with public relation officers. A waste of time. At prisons for example, wardens are essentially middle management who fear for their jobs. That is a vulnerability. There might be some theoretical linkage to some department head on some issue but oftentimes state directors in capitals are political animals who have well versed consultants and are could be pretty well shielded. The point is to have an organizational and political analysis of the institution you are messing with. Pick targets that get results or are vulnerable over anything else.
    Familiarity: So how does a crew or group develop that targeting analysis? Long term work provides familiarity, experience and thus effective organizing. Stick with it and you get more dangerous to the system.
    Update and followup: These actions involve a lot of people spread out all over the place by themselves making calls and making them to asshole functionaries of giant, opaque institutions that never admit anything in the moment or admit these actions effected them at all let alone that they did anything fucked up to begin with. Not a whole lot of gratification or incentive for someone to participate which is why organizers gotta update people on exactly what effect they are having. We’re familiar with these institutions and are monitoring all the signs for effect. Let people know via all those above-mentioned comms channels what effect they are having as it happens – Facebook and Twitter are great for real time encouragement and updates. When an action is over, FOLLOWUP immediately to let people know just how it all went, and followup down the road to let people know what effect they had. Retain that commitment and energy. So much political work is like yelling into a black hole with little feedback or measurable success and is ultimately very draining and unsustainable. Phone actions actually yield immediate results.
    You are building capacity, not just a single action: Think of each action not as an isolated event but as another opportunity to increase capacity and involvement. Your crew’s organizing demands actions again and again. Prison retaliations and abuses happen again and again. Evictions happen again and again. Develop that circle of supporters that can be relied on for calls and treat them as an extension of your immediate crew and as individuals to retain and count on. (See above point on following up and updates.) It’s much more effective to value and retain people who have participated before and know they are valued and part of something effective.
    Last but not least – Get direct commitments. Build phone trees: Reach out directly to other groups or crews for hard commitments to make calls. At Oakland IWOC we’ve managed to build a network of about 100 callers in a dozen crews that operate as affinity groups with us at the center as dispatchers and admins. We send affinity group liaisons the callouts and ask for hard commitments for how many callers they can muster for phone zap. They in turn report directly back to us on how the calls went. We monitor the phone blast, issue updates, send encouragement and sometimes issue new numbers to call if the initial targets shut down. In addition to our own membership, they form the backbone of our phone actions. Anyone who has managed group social media accounts or mass mailing accounts knows how tenuous social media engagement is and how little emails actually get opened. DON’T RELY ON SOCIAL MEDIA. IT’S FICKLE, ALIENATING, AND A REALLY POOR WAY TO BUILD RELIABLE CAPACITY.
    It’s always a crap shoot mobilizing numbers and we’re dealing with a lot of variables generally in addition to dealing with a shifting, deceptive enemy- direct commitments and report backs not only serve as a reliable backbone to an action, a good way to build long term capacity but also serve to remove a few variables and uncertainties which helps a lot with evaluating an action.
    Evaluation: Collect those report backs, followup with participants, and then huddle up to critique how the action went down. We’re engaged in shifting power and building our own capabilities and reach. We’re not just doing shit to feel good or look good. Right?

    IGD: Can you give us some examples in your experience of the successes from these campaigns?

    Oakland IWOC: Recently the two sons of a prominent abolitionist, Kim Wilson, who are both in Delaware prisons were singled out for retaliations; repeated shakedowns, fabricated write ups for violations, and confiscated personal property. A national call for phone pressure went out and within a day or two the write up was thrown out and property was beginning to be given back.

    Last summer, Oakland IWOC was fielding reports from contacts inside Corcoran of extreme duress, even heart failure due to a heatwave. Guards were keeping prisoners locked down while they chilled in the control pods with AC or in the day rooms with the fans. A phone campaign was mounted that also happened to make its way into prisoner family groups on Facebook. We refused to give locations or names of contacts and forced wellness checks throughout the whole facility, got prisoners out of their cells, and got them medical attention for the different symptoms of extreme heat stress.

    Kevin “Rashid” Johnson, a well known prisoner and political leader was thrown into a freezing “camera cell” (a further isolated and harsh solitary cell with no belongings allowed plus additional surveillance deployed) with a broken window in the middle of winter in Florida to retaliate against him from writing in support of “Operation PUSH,” a call for a statewide strike to kick off on MLK day 2018. He could barely write due to his hand shaking with the cold. A thousand calls land, lawyers visit, and he is returned to his regular cell.

    Sometimes the effect is diffuse and can only be seen to register over time… still very real and known to prisoners and experienced supporters … but sometimes like the instances above, the effect is immediate and undeniable. And anyone who has done time can tell you how guards and administration are essentially bullies that single people out for retaliation. Perhaps you are a resister or political or perhaps you don’t have anyone on the outside looking after you. Guards will do whatever they can get away with. But they too are part of a bureaucracy and prisons need to maintain a veneer of reason and accountability in order to obscure all their intrinsic violence and bullshit. Bad publicity (like phone blasts which are linked directly to inmate testimony and conditions) threaten that cloak not to mention undermines a warden/bureaucrat’s position in the hierarchy.

    Phone zaps get results!

    It’s not like writing a letter to your congressperson – no one is making an appeal to established power. We aren’t engaging in dialogue but inducing a bit of crisis to shift power to ourselves... This bit of operational crisis helps extract concessions.
    Oakland IWOC

    Building a solidarity network guide

    A guide to building a successful solidarity network along the lines of the Seattle Solidarity Network, written by two SeaSol organisers, in text and PDF pamphlet format.

    PDF versions:
    US paper size:
    A4 paper size:

    by Cold B and T Barnacle


    Introduction ~ Defining the scope ~ Prerequisites ~ Starting Fights ~
    Demands ~ Strategy ~ A Taxonomy of Tactics ~ Meetings ~ Mobilizing ~
    Structure and organizing capacity ~ Inside organizing


    In which we describe this article’s intended purpose and audience.

    The Seattle Solidarity Network (or “SeaSol” for short) is a small but growing workers’ and tenants’ mutual support organization that fights for specific demands using collective direct action. Founded in late 2007 by members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), SeaSol is directly democratic, is all-volunteer, has no central authority, and has no regular source of funding except small individual donations. We have successfully defeated a wide variety of employer and landlord abuses, including wage theft, slumlord neglect, deposit theft, outrageous fees, and predatory lawsuits.

    We’ve gotten a lot of inquiries in the past several months from folks in other cities wanting to start something like SeaSol where they live. Our mission in this article is to describe, for the benefit of those trying to build something similar, our experience of what it took to get SeaSol started and to keep it growing.

    Please note: we are writing as individuals, and not in the name of the organization.

    Defining the scope

    In which we discuss the challenges of defining the scope of a solidarity network project in its early days.

    The first step in starting an organization is to decide what it’s for. When starting SeaSol, we made a point of defining the scope of it very broadly, and this has proved to be one of its greatest strengths. Last month we were fighting a housing agency over towing fees. Today we are fighting a restaurant owner over unpaid wages. Next month we might be up against a bank, an insurance company, or a school administration.

    Because people are so used to single-issue organizing, when we first started it was difficult for some to wrap their minds around the idea of an organization that was not just about job issues or just about housing issues, but would deal equally with both, and beyond. There was also an urge to restrict the scope of the project to just certain sectors of the working class, such as the poorest of the poor, workers in specific industries, or specific neighborhoods within the city.

    Rather than becoming specialists, we have insisted on keeping our scope broad and flexible. Any worker or tenant in the Seattle area can join and can bring their fight to SeaSol. This helps us to bring in as many people as possible, and to keep up a constant stream of action. It means that instead of developing identities as tenant, neighborhood, or industry activists, we are building a sense of broad working class solidarity. It also means that the activists who started the project did not have to see ourselves as something separate from the group we wanted to organize. We were part of that group.


    In which we explain the basic things we needed in order to be able to launch SeaSol.

    People wanting to know how SeaSol got started often ask whether we had funding, whether we had an office, or whether we had extensive legal knowledge. We had none of these things, and we didn’t need them. However, there were a few basic things that we absolutely did need to have in order to make it work, and they are probably just as essential for anyone else out there who wants to build a solidarity network.

    1. One or two solid organizers. Of all the essential elements, this one tends to be the most difficult to come by. Without it, any new solidarity network is doomed. Other activists may come and go, but there must be least some who are extremely dedicated to the project, competent, self-organized, able to put a lot of time into the work, and planning on sticking with it for at least a couple of years. In SeaSol, it helped that some also had prior organizing experience.

    2. The ability to round up at least 15-20 people. This one is obvious, but people who are new to organizing almost always overestimate how many people they can mobilize. Getting 15 people to an action usually requires getting about 25 people to tell you, “Yes, I will be there.”

    For the first SeaSol actions, before we had an established phone tree, we just had to try to mobilize among our friends, our friends’ friends, IWW members, and people connected to other pre-existing organizations. We also sent emails to a few old lists that were left over from defunct radical projects from the early 2000’s. Our first action invitation was the only exciting thing that had gone out on some of those lists for a very long time, and this probably contributed to what we then considered an excellent turnout, 23 people.

    3. The ability to reach out and find workers and tenants who have conflicts with their bosses and landlords. SeaSol did this by putting up posters around bus stops. See the ‘Starting Fights’ section for more on this.

    4. Some logistical details. Starting a solidarity network requires very little money. You will need a place to meet, but there is no need to rent an office. We held meetings at an organizer’s home for the first year of SeaSol. You will need a phone number that goes to voicemail – we don’t try to be ‘on call’ whenever the phone rings (we’re not paid social workers!). We use a free voicemail service that sends the messages to our internal email list. You will also need an email address, a website, and someone with decent graphic design ability for making posters and flyers.

    5. A plan for getting started. You might be tempted to launch your solidarity network by publicly inviting all interested activists to an initial meeting. This is probably a mistake. When the direction of the project hasn’t yet been firmly established through action, it’s very easy to get blown off course. At this early stage, if you hold a large meeting by bringing in people with a wide variety of different ideas and agendas, you’re likely to get a lot of confusion and strife, and not a lot of action. In SeaSol, our tiny initial group of like-minded activists spent several months putting up posters and winning a few fights before we ever publicly announced our meetings, or held any public events other than actions.

    Starting Fights

    In which we describe how we find people with employer or landlord conflicts and bring them into SeaSol campaigns.

    Postering. From the start, our main way of finding new people with job or housing conflicts has been by putting up posters on telephone poles. We mostly post them in working class neighborhoods or in industrial areas where a lot of people work. The most effective places to stick them seem to around high-traffic bus stops. Someone who’s standing around waiting for a bus is more likely to take the time to read a poster than someone who’s walking past.

    We keep the content of our posters extremely simple and direct. Because we want to elicit fights that we can win with our current size and strength, our posters list specific problems that we think we can potentially deal with: “unpaid wages?” “stolen deposit?”. If someone is currently facing one of these problems, these words are likely to catch their eye.

    Postering is a ‘passive’ form of outreach, since we’re leaving it up to the screwed-over worker or tenant to contact us and ask for our support, instead of us approaching them. We do this for a reason: people who have taken the initiative to contact us are more likely to be people who are prepared to play an active role in a campaign. Also the fact that they have approached us, and not the other way around, makes it easier for us to insist on some conditions in exchange for our support. For example, they’ll have to be actively involved in their own fight, and they’ll have to join the solidarity network and commit to coming out for others as well. That’s our deal – take it or leave it.

    Getting contacts via posters isn’t easy. At the beginning of SeaSol, there were doubts about whether anyone would ever call us. We started by spending several weeks working on and arguing about text and design for two different versions, one for boss problems and one for landlord problems. Then we probably put up around 300 posters before we got our first call. They get torn down so we had to keep going back and putting them up again.

    There are definitely people getting screwed over in your town. Don’t give up if they don’t call you right away. If you keep postering over and over in a lot of different places and still aren’t getting calls, consider redesigning your poster. In our experience, the most effective posters do not look like anarchist propaganda. Try putting them on brightly colored paper, and make sure the key phrases (“unpaid wages?”, “stolen deposit?”) stand out large and clear to a casual passer-by.

    Getting a call and setting up the first meeting. When someone calls us about a conflict with their employer or landlord, the SeaSol secretary-of-the-week listens to the voicemail and calls them back. The secretary asks questions, listens briefly to their story, explains what our group is about, and if it makes sense, sets up a first meeting with them, usually in a public place like a coffee shop. At these initial meetings we aim to have at least two, and no more than four SeaSol members present, with at least one being a committed organizer who has some experience.

    Agitate – Educate – Organize. In this first meeting, we go through the classic organizing steps of “agitate – educate – organize”.

    “Agitate”, in this case, doesn’t mean making a speech. It means listening to their story (even if they already told it on the phone) and asking questions to bring out exactly how the injustices affect their life. In talking through this they’re “agitating” themselves - in other words, they’re bringing to the surface the emotional forces which made them want to contact us in the first place. The emotional response to getting stepped on is often extremely powerful, but most of the time people bury these feelings in the back of their minds so they can get through day-to-day life. Now it all has to come back out. Only then will they be ready to face the possibly unfamiliar and scary idea of fighting back using direct action.

    The next step, “Educate”, means helping them understand how something could be done about their situation through collective direct action. We do this by briefly describing how our action campaigns work, using real examples. We give them a sense of what their first action (the group demand delivery) might be like. We don’t bullshit them or promise that we will win their fight, but we give them a sense of the strategy behind our campaigns, and why it usually succeeds. We also briefly explain the other key things they need to understand about SeaSol, especially the fact that we're all volunteers and that we're not a law firm or a social service.

    Finally, “Organize” means getting into the specific, practical tasks that we need to ask from them. Can they help us boil their problems down to a specific demand that we could fight for (see the ‘Demands’ section for more on this)? If we did fight for it, would they be able and willing to come to our meetings every week to take part in the planning? Would they be willing to become members of the solidarity network, receive frequent phone calls for actions in support of other workers and tenants, and commit to coming out whenever they could?

    Deciding whether to take on the fight

    We end the first meeting by making a plan to follow up with them, usually by phone, once SeaSol as a group has had a chance to decide whether we're going to take on the fight. We ordinarily vote on this (majority rules) at our weekly meeting. If it’s really urgent, we use a passive consensus process called the “24 hour rule” by emailing a proposal to our higher traffic email list. If no one objects within 24 hours, then the proposal passes. But the situation is rarely urgent enough to require this process, and it’s basically impossible to use it for tricky decisions (since we won’t have consensus), so usually a decision to take on a fight can wait until the weekly meeting. We make sure not to invite the person (or people) requesting support to be present at this meeting -- otherwise we would never be able to say no.

    We use three main criteria in deciding whether to take on a fight: Is the fight compelling enough to motivate our members and supporters? Are the affected workers/tenants ready to participate in the campaign? And, can we win it?

    We think about winnability as the relationship between two factors: how hard it is for the boss/landlord to give in to our demand, versus how much we can hurt them. For example: consider a restaurant that owes its former dishwasher $500 in unpaid wages. The restaurant has one location only, and it’s in a touristy area, where potential diners are not all that loyal to any particular restaurant. It is having cash flow problems.

    How hard is it for them to give in? They’re having money troubles, so it might be a little hard for them to scrape together the $500. On the other hand, this is always a matter of priorities, and $500 is not a ton of money for a business. If we pressure the boss enough, it seems likely that he might be able to come up with it.

    How much can we hurt them? Our ability to hurt any boss or landlord ranges from “we can embarrass them”, which is weak but still sometimes useful, to “we can put them out of business”, which is usually the strongest thing we can threaten. In the case of the real-life restaurant used in this example, with a few months of aggressive weekend picketing we could probably have put them out of business. After weighing the difficulty of the demand versus how much we could hurt them, we decided this was a winnable fight. As it turned out, the restaurant owner, after going through the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance), decided he didn’t want to find out if we could put him out of business, and the dishwasher got paid.

    When we don’t think we can win a fight (or don’t have the capacity, and have too many fights ongoing already), we don’t take it on. Moving from victory to victory keeps the group energized and growing. Getting bogged down in unwinnable fights would do the opposite. As we grow stronger, fights which are unwinnable now will become winnable in the future.


    In which we discuss the formulating and delivering of demands.

    Formulating the demand.
    Before we can decide on whether a fight would be winnable, we need to know exactly what we’d be fighting for. This is something we have to figure out during the initial meeting. Usually when someone first meets with us, they have a problem with their boss or landlord, but they don’t yet have a demand. We have to help them come up with a clear, specific, reasonable demand that can be communicated to the boss or landlord, telling them exactly what we expect them to do to address the problem. The demand should be as simple and concise as possible. Sometimes it’s necessary to include multiple demands, but it can’t be a huge laundry list. If the demand isn’t simple, righteous and compelling enough, our own people won’t understand or feel strongly enough to come out and fight for it. If it isn’t specific enough, we’ll end up with confusion over whether or not we’ve won.

    Here is an example of a poorly-formulated demand to give to a landlord:
    “Address ongoing issues concerning moisture and mold which have continued to be ignored.”

    The main problem here is that it isn’t specific. How will we know when “ongoing issues” have been “addressed”?

    Here is a better version:
    “Repair the leaks in the kitchen and living room ceilings, which are causing water damage and mold.”

    It’s clear and specific. There won’t be much room for doubt over whether or not it’s been done.

    Putting it in writing.
    When we present our demands, we always do so by handing over a written demand letter. If we were to present our demands verbally, we might find ourselves getting bogged down in back-and-forth arguments with the boss or landlord, which would lead to confusion and delay. Presenting the demands in writing helps us avoid this, and it also lets the group democratically decide on exactly what message we want to get across to the boss or landlord, without much risk of mix-ups or miscommunication.

    Obviously the affected worker/tenant (or group of them) needs to be involved in the process of putting together the demand letter, and they need to be in agreement with the final version we end up with. However, this doesn’t mean we let them write whatever they want. The demand letter is signed in the name of the solidarity network as a whole, so we have to make sure it’s something that we as an organization are prepared to stand behind, and to fight a potentially long and hard campaign over.

    We keep our demand letters extremely short and to the point. This is sometimes a challenge, because often the first impulse of the person we’re supporting is to use this letter as a vehicle for expressing all their anger to the boss or landlord, or for presenting lengthy justifications for the demands. We have to explain that while all this stuff can be great when it comes to mobilizing our supporters, telling it to the boss or landlord isn’t likely to do any good at this point. In the demand letter, there are really only three things we need to get across: (1) what the problem is, (2) what the boss or landlord needs to do about it, and (3) how much time we're going to wait before taking further action.

    Here’s an example:

    October 23, 2010

    Mr. Ciro D'onofrio,

    It has come to our attention that a former employee, Becky Davis, has not been paid the final

    wages she earned working for Bella Napoli, of which you are the owner.

    A total of $478 was never paid to her after her month of employment. The various reasons given

    for this – missing invoices and a missing bottle of wine – seem to be spurious and untenable.

    As the owner of this company, we see it as your responsibility to ensure that this situation be

    resolved, and that your employee is paid in full the wages she is owed. We will expect this to be

    done soon, within no more than 14 days. Otherwise we will take further action.


    Becky Davis and The Seattle Solidarity Network 206-350-8650

    Delivering the demand.
    Our fights always begin with the delivery of the demand en masse. We round up a group of people, anywhere from 10 to 30, to go with the worker or tenant affected and confront the boss or landlord in their office or at their home. It isn’t a violent confrontation, but nor is it a friendly visit. The group is there to get the boss or landlord’s attention, to show that there is some real support behind the demand, and to make them think twice about retaliating. We don’t engage in conversation -- in fact, sometimes these actions are entirely silent. Once the whole group has assembled in front of the boss or landlord, the worker or tenant affected steps forward and hands over the demand letter, and then we leave.

    Some have argued that it would be quicker and easier just to send the demand letter by mail. In some cases this might be true, in the sense that we could get our demands met more efficiently this way, but it would not serve our larger goal of building up people power. Delivering the demand in person as a group builds a sense of solidarity, in a way that mailing a letter could never do. The people who take part in it end up feeling personally connected to the fight. This means that if the target boss or landlord gets scared and gives in quickly, it’s an empowering victory for everyone who participated in the demand delivery. If the target does not give in quickly, then all those who came out are now much more likely to be willing and eager to come out for the follow-up actions. If we got our demands met just by mailing a letter, the only people who would have participated in the victory would be the one or two individuals who had written the letter and dropped it in the mail. It would do nothing to build up power for the future.

    When planning a demand delivery action, we don’t want the boss or landlord to know we’re coming. Without the element of surprise, the action would have much less impact. They might even arrange to be absent at the time of the action, or to have police there waiting for us. This actually happened to SeaSol once, when we had foolishly forwarded around an online action-announcement in which we named the company we were targeting. Since then, when announcing demand delivery actions we’ve always made sure to avoid broadcasting the name of the boss or landlord involved. Sometimes we assign them a code name.

    Demand delivery actions can be a tense experience for some of our people, especially new folks. As we’re approaching the target’s office or home, the people in front seem to want to walk fast, while the ones in back lag behind. We’ve seen this lead to a situation where the person in front arrives almost alone in the target’s office, and in their nervousness, hands over the demand letter and turns to leave before most of their backup has had a chance to file in through the door. Obviously this squanders a lot of the power of the action. To avoid this, we now make a point of asking the people in front to walk slowly, and the person carrying the demand letter stays in the back of the crowd until after we’ve all gathered in front of the target. Then, once the full presence of the group has been felt, we part like the Red Sea while the letter-bearer passes through and hands over the demand.

    Why not refuse to leave until the boss / landlord gives in? Some have asked why we don’t just stay there in the target’s office until they’ve resolved the problem. No doubt occasionally this would scare them into giving in on the spot. But what about the other times, when they decide to be stubborn and refuse to give in? To counter us, all they’d have to do would be to call the cops and wait. After a while the cops would arrive to forcibly remove us, and with our current strength we would not be able to hold out for long. Then we’d be stuck spending our time on legal defense instead of planning further action against the boss or landlord. Plus, having started off our campaign with such an intense action, we’d have little or no room to further escalate the pressure.

    By choosing to leave once we’ve delivered our message, with a promise of more action to come, we keep the initiative. Instead of trying to defend a space that we wouldn’t actually be able to defend, we stay on the attack. This makes it very hard for the boss or landlord to counter us. We’re there in their face before they know what’s going on, and then we’re gone before they can bring in the cops. We leave them with an impression of strength, and we leave them wondering what we’ll do next.

    Finally, depending on the demand, it’s not always even possible for the boss or landlord to grant it on the spot. What about repairs to a building, or better safety equipment at work? Here the most we could force out of them immediately would be a written promise, which they would then be likely to break as soon as we were gone.


    In which we summarize the basic principles of strategy used in SeaSol fights.

    If the boss/landlord doesn’t give in before our deadline, then the pressure campaign begins. Through a sustained series of actions, we aim to create an increasingly unpleasant situation for the boss or landlord, from which their only escape is to grant our demands.

    There is no sense doing a demand delivery unless we’re ready to back it up with an action plan that can force the enemy to give in. Therefore we consider, what are the pressure points we can use against the enemy? How many people can we get out to an action, and what are people willing to do at those actions? All of this takes a serious and thoughtful analysis of our own strength.

    Our campaign strategy is based on the basic insight that the boss or landlord doesn't cave in as a result of what we just did to them--they cave in as a result of their fear of what we're going to do next. So we have to be able to escalate, or increase the pressure over time, and we have to pace ourselves so that we can sustain the fight for as long as it takes. At least once during a fight, we brainstorm possible tactics and order them from least to most pressure. Then we make a plan for how often and in which order we should carry them out.

    To illustrate this, here’s a list of the actions we took in our fight against Nelson Properties, in order from start to finish:

    1. We did the mass demand delivery.

    2. We started the ongoing posting and re-posting of “Do Not Rent Here” posters around many different Nelson buildings.

    3. We started door-to-door tenants’-rights discussions with current Nelson tenants.

    4. We started a series of small pickets in front of Nelson’s office.

    5. We delivered letters to Nelson’s neighbors, warning them about an as-yet-unnamed slumlord in their midst, and promising to return en masse to discuss the problem with each neighbor in full detail. We made sure Nelson himself got a copy.

    And then we won.

    A Taxonomy of Tactics

    In which we describe our criteria for evaluating tactics and elaborate a taxonomy of tactics we have tried.

    For any potential tactic we have to ask ourselves these questions:

    Does it hurt them? For example, does it cost them money? Does it hurt their reputation? Does it hurt their career?

    Does it hurt us? Does it put too much strain on our people? Does it get us arrested, prosecuted, or sued?

    Can we mobilize for it? Will our people like it? Will they understand it? Will they be able to do it? It is at a time when people are available?

    We want all our actions to build people’s experience, confidence, knowledge, and radicalization. We want to take action in an empowering manner, avoiding the disempowerment that comes from relying on bureaucrats, social workers, politicians, lawyers, and other “experts.”

    We take different approaches for different targets. We try to be creative and flexible. Tactics brainstorm sessions are sometimes hilarious. Picketing was great for Pita Pit because it was a public restaurant in a high foot-traffic area. Picketing was not a great idea for the Capitola Apartments, because it was hard to know when potential renters might show up to view the place, but repeatedly putting up “Do Not Rent Here” posters worked great.

    Here are some of the types of tactics SeaSol has used so far. Each one has its pros, cons, and logistical considerations.

    Handing out flyers in front of a workplace. Flyering at a workplace can be targeted at customers, at workers, or at random passers-by. Just handing out flyers is a little bit less aggressive than picketing with signs. The content can either be purely informational, just arousing sympathy and raising awareness of the issue (ostensibly—really it’s always about freaking out the boss), or it can be openly about turning away customers, as in “Don’t shop here!”.

    Picketing a store / restaurant / hotel. The timing of a picket is really important and often warrants scouting the location to determine the time of most possible impact. We have found that direct messages garner the most attention: “Don’t Rent/Shop/Eat Here” grabs people’s attention more than a nebulous “Justice for all workers!” or similar. When we picket we usually hand out an aggressive flyer at the same time. We have also tried out other tricks to help turn away business. For example, in the Jimmy John’s fight, we handed out coupons for Subway; in the Greenlake and Nelson fights we had collected negative online reviews to show to potential customers; in the Tuff Shed fight we had a list of other shed stores to direct people to.

    In some cases picketing can antagonize the current employees, especially if they are restaurant workers who are dependent on tips. Recently we have discussed the idea of always doing a week or two of less aggressive, informational picketing or flyering before we start aggressively turning away business. This would give us an opportunity to make contact with the current employees in a positive way and explain the issue to them. We have also begun taking up collections for the tip jar when picketing a coffee shop or restaurant.

    Picketing an office. Usually picketing a company’s office does not turn away customers, but it does generate embarrassment. Again timing is key. When are their busy times? Sometimes we haven’t been sure if they’ve noticed us, so we’ve stood right in front of the door until they’ve asked us to leave.

    Postering around a store / restaurant / hotel. Again, the content can be informational or else urging a boycott. Posters are usually targeted at foot traffic so we put them up accordingly (eye-level, facing sidewalks). Posters often get ripped down quickly.

    Postering around vacant rental units. The posters usually say “DON’T RENT AT [name of building]”, and they highlight problems that will turn off potential renters, such as pests, mold, deposit theft, etc. We emphasize that if someone rents from this landlord, they too will suffer from the landlord’s injustices. Here we’re appealing to potential tenants’ self interest, whereas in a “don’t shop here” flyer, we’re typically making more of a moral appeal. To make sure the landlord sees the connection between these posters and our conflict and demands, we add a little explanatory text at the bottom, like “Nelson Properties is currently persecuting former tenant Maria. You could be next.”

    Visiting neighbors with flyers. Airing the boss or landlord’s dirty laundry in front of their neighbors can often make them extremely uncomfortable. This is most effective when they live in an upscale neighborhood. You can approach the neighbors on the pretext that, as neighbors, they might be in a position to influence the boss or landlord to “do the right thing.” If neighbors do actually exert pressure, it’s more likely to have to do with the fact that the boss’s or landlord’s activities are subjecting the neighborhood to an uncomfortable situation, rather than based on moral considerations.

    Visiting the landlord’s workplace (if any). The issues involved with visiting a workplace are very similar to visiting a neighborhood: to put the boss/landlord in an uncomfortable position. It’s good to show up in a big enough group to get a lot of attention, speak to the person’s boss and/or coworkers about the issue. We hope this will then generate secondary pressure on the landlord, via their boss ordering them to see to it that this doesn’t happen again.

    Introductory letter to neighbors or coworkers. In the past we used to do neighbor or workplace visits without any warning, as a one-off tactic. This succeeded in upsetting the boss or landlord quite a lot, but it didn’t seem to cause them to give in. The problem was, it didn’t generate ongoing pressure. After we did it, the damage was done – they had been “outed” to the neighbors/coworkers. Before we did it, they didn’t know it was coming. So it didn’t add any pressure.

    After running into this problem several times, we decided to try doing the action in two parts. The second part is the visit as described above. The first part, one to three weeks earlier, consists of mailing or discreetly dropping off (on doorsteps or car windshields) “introductory letters” to the boss or landlord’s neighbors or coworkers, making a point to accidentally mail or leave one for the boss/landlord themselves as well.

    Here is an example of one of these letters, from our fight with Nelson Properties.


    We would like to reach out to you, as concerned neighborhood residents, about a tragic situation which you may be in a position to influence for the better.

    Maria and her family, who recently moved after suffering health problems due to landlord negligence, are now suffering further abuse at the hands of an unscrupulous business called Nelson Properties, which is rooted in this neighborhood. Having collecting rent from them without doing basic maintenance, Nelson is now pursuing Maria and her family for even more money that they do not owe and do not have, and is also wrongfully pocketing their deposit - a small extra profit for Nelson, but a huge loss for a low-income worker like Maria.

    A group of concerned activists will be roaming the neighborhood soon to distribute more information and to discuss this issue in more depth with each household on the street.

    We look forward to meeting you!


    Seattle Solidarity Network

    These letters are vague and polite—we don’t want to sound like thugs—but they let the boss/landlord and neighbors/coworkers know that we will soon do something that will make them uncomfortable. It contains just enough information so that the boss or landlord themselves knows it’s about them, but it won’t necessarily be entirely clear to the neighbors/coworkers who this is about. This leaves plenty of room for us to get more specific when we actually visit the neighborhood or workplace.

    In this particular example, we had been fighting them for a month, and then they gave in within two days after we delivered this letter.

    Postering around the boss or landlord’s home. We have found this to be an effective way of airing the target’s dirty laundry in front of their neighbors and family members. This is similar to showing up in person but easier—it takes fewer people and can be repeated over and over as posters get torn down. Make sure to include the boss/landlord’s name and address on the poster and if possible a photo of the boss/landlord or of their house.

    Addressing city council meetings. Most city councils have a public comment period where anyone can speak. These are often televised. They’re usually poorly attended, so a sizable organized group with a compelling message tends to get attention. This is mainly useful if the boss or landlord has business relationships with the city, or if the council has decisions to make which will impact their business in some way. Otherwise this tactic is not likely to have much impact, unless the target is exceptionally high-profile and concerned about his/her reputation.

    Come prepared with a short speech, so you’re not making it up as you go along. This tactic has more impact if combined with picketing at the outside entrance before the start of the meeting. We have found it works well to have all supporters stand while the speaker is speaking and cheer after they finish. This allows for the presence of the group to be felt by the council in connection with what the speaker is saying.

    Crashing events (such as open houses). This tactic makes the most sense in a long-running fight, where you are trying to find every possible way of making trouble for your target. When you find, usually by searching online, that a company you’re fighting is holding an event that’s open to the public, you can have a few people go in “plainclothes”—without picket signs—and blend in with the crowd. Then after a prearranged signal (someone yells, “yee-haw!”), they start distributing flyers to the crowd to inform everyone of the company’s misdeeds. Don’t forget to save some of the free snacks for your comrades outside.

    Picketing at public meetings and events. Any meeting, convention, or other event that your target is connected to can be a good option for picketing. Your target may have dealings with government agencies, sponsor industry meet-ups, belong to a country club, or be connected to a charity. These can provide picketing opportunities where you can tarnish their reputation in the eyes of people whose good opinion they care about.

    Calling to arrange to view an apartment. If a landlord has vacancies they are trying to fill, you can mess with them by calling to arrange viewings. This works best when combined with picketing or flyering outside the rental office or outside the for-rent unit. Then the person who arranged the viewing can either: (1) not show up and call later to say they’ve changed their mind after receiving a flyer about the conflict, or (2) if they’re a good actor, they can go through with the viewing and act very uncomfortable about the people picketing/flyering outside.

    Online reviews. Some businesses rely heavily on the internet for getting customers. There are several popular websites where anyone can post reviews about businesses. A sudden barrage of negative reviews can have a major impact. Plus it’s a fun tactic that lots of people can do on their own time, and even supporters in other cities can help out. For this tactic to be effective, the target has to be able to see that the barrage of negative reviews is connected to your conflict and demands

    Satirical charity events. If your target is known to be wealthy and is vulnerable to public shaming, holding highly-visible “charity” events on their behalf can be a clever way to ridicule them. To get the most possible mileage out of this tactic, plan it well in advance and advertise heavily with posters and/or flyers. Here’s an example:

    Impoverished landlords Harpal Supra and Tajinder Singh need your help! For months they have not been able to maintain decent health and safety conditions - such as clean drinking water and ventilation - in the house at 24260 132nd Ave SE, Kent. In protest, the family who lives there has decided to withhold rent money from them. The landlords are in such need of this money that they are now in the process of evicting the family!

    You and your family are warmly invited to a Charity Bake Sale for Harpal Supra and Tajinder Singh, from 3pm to 6pm on Sunday, April 26, at 24260 132nd Ave SE, Kent - right next to the Gurudwara Sacha Marg.

    Come eat, and contribute whatever you can - even $1 or 50 cents - to help Harpal Supra and Tajinder Singh.

    When we finally won our year-long fight against Lorig Associates, one of their conditions for giving in was that we formally agree not to hold any more charity bake sales for Bruce Lorig.

    Tenant investigation. When fighting a large landlord, you might find it worthwhile to go door-to-door informing all the other tenants of their rights and asking about landlord abuses. We call this a “tenant investigation”. We generally go in with a half-page flyer that lists a bunch of common landlord-tenant problems and invites people to get in touch if they’d like more info about their rights. We make a point of leaving some of these lying around the building, so that management is sure to know about our visit. This tactic tends to make landlords pretty nervous, and it’s a great way to establish good relations with the other tenants who are not directly involved in the fight.

    Noncompliance pact. We’ve been in a couple of fights in which a group of tenants were all facing evictions or major rent hikes. In this situation, a powerful tactic has been for everyone affected (or as many as are willing) to form a mutual “noncompliance pact”, and to inform the landlord that none of them are going to comply or voluntarily vacate the building until all their demands have been met. This puts the landlord in a tough position, since forcibly evicting even one tenant can be a lengthy and expensive process, so for a whole group of tenants it may be more trouble than giving in to the demands. Here’s an example of a “noncompliance” letter, signed by ten residents in an apartment building:

    We, tenants of the Kasota apartments who are not Sound Mental Health clients, hereby notify you that we cannot accept the cruel and unjust way in which we are now being forced from our homes. You have presented us with a rent increase which is so extreme, you must be aware that we could not possibly afford to pay it. It appears that the intent is simply to drive us out.

    If we are to be forced out of our homes, then we respectfully insist that you provide each of us with relocation assistance, so that we can find other places to live and not join the ranks of the homeless.

    We hereby pledge:

    Unless and until each and every one of us has received adequate relocation assistance, none of us will pay the increased rent or voluntarily vacate the building.


    In which we discuss what it takes for solidarity network meetings to be inclusive, democratic, and effective at getting things done.

    Meetings may be a boring topic to write or read about, but in fact, we spend more time together in meetings than we do on picket lines. Meetings are where the actual planning of our campaigns happens. Meetings are also where we put direct democracy into practice. In this section, we’ll go over a few of the key practices we’ve developed in the course of three years of SeaSol meetings.

    We meet every week, and we really get stuff done during these meetings. When SeaSol first formed, we only met twice per month. The long gaps between regular meetings meant that most of the logistics and planning of our fights had to get done separately in between these meetings, in small ad hoc planning sessions among the most active organizers. This made it hard for newer people to start participating in a meaningful way. It was also hard on our schedules. When we finally switched to meeting every week, splitting the meeting into smaller “breakout” sessions where needed, it seriously improved our ability to grow and to take on more fights. Now, these regular meetings are the place where almost all of our actual planning gets done, and there’s rarely a need for separate planning sessions in between. The regular meetings now provide a space where any SeaSol member who wants to step up can easily start participating, alongside more experienced folks, in the planning and execution of our campaigns. Having this “permeability” within the group, where new people can easily volunteer for jobs and can get involved in real organizing very quickly, gives a huge boost to our ability to bring in and develop new organizers. Also our meetings are now much better attended, since they’re much more worth attending.

    We assign clear responsibility for specific tasks. In a representative democracy, or in a staff-driven organization that has a Board of Directors, there is usually a fixed distinction between “legislative” and “executive” roles, in other words, between those who make the decisions and those who carry them out. In a direct, participatory democracy like SeaSol, this is not the case. Because we have no fixed “executive” who can be expected to carry out the decisions of the group, whenever we decide to do something, we then have to ask, “which of us will take responsibility for making sure this task gets done?” Otherwise, more often than not it won’t get done at all, and our democratic decisions will be meaningless. When we give someone responsibility for a specific task, this does not mean we’re giving them authority, in the sense of a coercive ability to order others around. They just have to ask nicely for help, and hope that others are willing to cooperate. If all else fails, they just have to do it themselves.

    We create an agenda at the beginning of each meeting. Whoever is present at the beginning of a meeting has an opportunity to contribute agenda items. This process doesn’t take long, because the main items tend to be the same every week: incoming calls, breakouts to plan ongoing fights, outreach to bring in new members, etc etc.

    Time is of the essence. Some people like to use group meetings as opportunities for ranting at great length on various topics. If we allowed this, our meetings would run on forever and we wouldn’t get much done. To prevent it, when making the agenda we set a time limit for each item, and we ask someone to play the role of “time keeper” for the meeting. This allows us to manage the overall length of the meeting, and to make sure everything essential gets done.

    We use strong meeting facilitation. In our experience, probably the most important factor in making a SeaSol meeting work well is having a strong, competent facilitator. It’s the facilitator’s job to make sure that we’re moving through the agenda, that decisions are being made democratically, and that everyone who wants to participate has the opportunity to do so. This is a tricky skill, and it takes time, effort and practice to develop it. We’re always trying to help each other get better at it.

    Here are some tips we’ve put together to give to new people in SeaSol who want to try facilitating a meeting:

    Tips & Tricks for SeaSol meeting facilitation

    - Listen for proposals in what people are saying. Try to steer the group towards making decisions and acting upon them, instead of talking in circles.

    - Restate proposals to make sure everyone knows what's being decided on. A few phrases you can use are: "What I'm hearing is..." and “We have a proposal to...”

    - When in doubt, take a vote.

    - Keep “stack”, i.e. a list of people who want to speak on a topic. Call on people in order. If it’s too much to keep track of, you can recruit a helper to keep stack for you.

    - Don’t be afraid to cut people off if they are talking out of turn, over time, or interrupting other people.

    - Don't abuse your position as chair to give your opinion more weight / time / authority.

    - Be neutral when you ask for votes, and use the same tone of voice for all options. As in: “All in favor.” “All opposed.” Rather than: “Does anyone want to vote against this?”

    - Always have a time keeper and note taker.

    - Add up the length of the agenda at the beginning of meeting so the group knows what they’re getting into. This may cause people to decide to spend less time on certain items.

    - You can ask the time keeper to give you warnings (5 min, 3 min, 1 min)

    - Ask meeting attendees’ permission to extend the time on an agenda item (possibly through a quick vote).

    - Periodically check back in about the meeting's remaining time, and when the meeting is projected to end.

    - Need a break? Ask someone else to take over as chair.

    - If your mouth gets dry, it’s a sign that you're talking too much.


    In which we describe how we consistently turn out enough people for our actions

    Since the point of a solidarity network is to engage in direct action, mobilizing people for actions is one of the most important things we do as a group. We take our ability to mobilize very seriously. We try not to waste people’s time or mess people around by frequently canceling or rescheduling actions, and we try to make sure our actions are worth showing up to.

    SeaSol’s main tool for mobilizing is a phone tree, currently with about 170 people. Each member of the organizing team (What’s that? See the section on “Organizing capacity and group structure”) is a "branch" on the tree and has about 10 people to mobilize each time we have a major action. Whenever possible we want to use the strength of existing social bonds, so for example if someone on the phone tree is a close friend of one of the organizers, then they should probably be on that organizer’s calling list. We also have a mass email list for action announcements. Mass emails rarely cause many people to show up, but they’re useful for a reminder or for reference. An individual email sent to a friend who checks email a lot (“Hey Kate, can you come out for this?”) is a different story -- personal invites can work well in any medium, depending on the habits and preferences of the person you’re inviting.

    Regardless of how we’re contacting someone for an action, our goal is always to get an answer from them -- yes, no, or maybe -- as to whether or not they’ll be coming. A person who has said “Yes, I’ll be there” to another human being is much more likely to show up to an action than someone who’s just received a message. For that reason, when making phone calls we make a concerted effort to actually talk to people rather than talking to their voice mail. Before leaving a message, we try calling on two different days, sometimes at different times.

    It’s important to have realistic expectations about turnout. If you want to get a lot of people to an action, it usually takes a lot of work and organization. Out of thirty people who say “yes”, we’ve generally found that somewhere between fifteen and twenty will show up. Out of ten people who say “maybe”, we might expect between zero and two (maybe means no!).

    To consistently do a good job at mobilizing requires some structure and some collective responsibility. Our organizing team always has a deadline for when we should get our calls done. We report our results to each other by email. Then the person who’s “bottom line” for the action follows up with anyone who hasn’t reported yet, to see if they need help and to make sure it gets done.

    Structure and organizing capacity

    In which we discuss the challenges of organizational structure and of developing solid organizers

    At the beginning, SeaSol had almost no formal structure. There wasn’t much need for it, since we were a tiny group of people with a low level of activity. We realized that we might later have more need for formal structures, as the group got bigger and more active, but we did not try to set them up in advance. In hindsight, this seems to have been a wise decision. If we had spent our time arguing about, planning, and then maintaining formal structures that we hypothetically might need at some point in the future, it would have been a serious drag on our ability to start taking action and building real strength. Instead, over time we have added on pieces of structural organization (e.g. an organizing team, a secretary role, a definition of membership) on an as-needed basis, as the group’s increased size and complexity has created both the need for them and the capacity to maintain them.

    For example, for our whole first year we informally left almost all administrative work to one dedicated, reliable person who had a ton of free time. That was who answered the calls, replied to emails, and set up the initial meetings for new fights. The role was not elected or even formally defined. The work just needed to get done, and if we only had one person who was able and willing to do it consistently, that was who had to do it. Then later on, once we had multiple reliable and committed people who were able to shoulder that burden, we created a formally defined role called “secretary duty”, which changes hands almost every week.

    As we’ve developed SeaSol’s structure, we’ve always wrestled with the fact that there have been dramatically unequal levels of involvement between different people in the group. In principle we would prefer to have everyone participating equally. However, this doesn’t seem to be possible in a volunteer-based organization. We will always (if we’re lucky) have some people who want to spend half their waking hours on solidarity-network organizing, while others only want to receive an occasional email, and the rest are somewhere in between. SeaSol has decided to accept this unevenness as a fact of life, and to develop a structure that makes room for different levels of involvement. We try to make it as easy as possible for people to move from one level to the next.

    When someone signs up online for our action-announcements phone list or email list, and they haven’t yet been to an action or a meeting, at first we consider them a “supporter”. At this level, at most they’ll get a phone call about once per month inviting them to an action. Once someone comes out to an action, at the end of the action they’ll be invited to become a “member”. Being a member doesn’t require them to pay dues, but it means considering themselves part of SeaSol, committing to come out to actions whenever possible, and receiving much more frequent phone calls and emails. When someone enlists SeaSol for their own job or housing conflict, they're required to become a member if they weren't already.

    The highest level of commitment is to be an “organizer”, i.e. a member of the organizing committee (or “team”). Although it’s technically an elected committee, we encourage as many people to join it as are willing. Organizers commit to coming to all weekly meetings and to being the “branches” on the phone tree whenever we do a mobilization. Organizing committee members are also the ones who return calls and who take the lead on meeting with people for potential new fights. The organizing committee does not have any special powers, nor does it ever meet separately from the rest of SeaSol. It’s a position of responsibility, not of authority.

    Having this committed core group is absolutely essential to SeaSol’s ability to keep things going and to get things done consistently. When projects don’t have a group of people who have committed to doing a certain amount of work, they tend to end up with one or two poor overworked souls actually doing everything to keep things together, while the people around them say, 'Wow, this just works! It's easy! It’s so organic!'

    Whatever energy we can spare from the basic organizing, we try to spend on developing new people’s organizing capacity. We have semi-regular trainings covering the basic skills it takes to run a direct action campaign. Afterwards, we often do one-on-one followup sessions where we share our strengths, challenges, and goals as organizers.

    There is often a difficult balance to strike between developing newer people and making sure stuff gets done. People don’t like to feel micromanaged, but on the other hand, leaving them to fail at a task or drop the ball can be even more demoralizing and disempowering. We have a few strategies to try to walk this fine line. First, we maintain a group culture that more or less frowns on flakiness and values solidness. When you take on a task, everyone expects that you will actually do the task by the time you agreed to, and then report back on your progress. When you do so, you gain some respect within the group. When you don’t, you lose some. This generates real social pressure to follow through on what you say you’re going to do. Second, we make an effort to push people to move past their fears and try out new aspects of organizing. This can be as simple as doing a task with someone the first time, and then the second time asking, “Why don’t you try taking the lead this time?” The standard axiom for this is, “see one, do one, teach one,” although it should probably be “see a few, do a lot, teach one”. Third, we follow up with each other to offer support and to help work through any obstacles people are facing in getting stuff done. When a new person volunteers to bottom-line something, we often have someone who’s more experienced volunteer to be their “backup” person, to help them through any difficulties and to pick up the ball if it gets dropped.

    Finally, it’s worth mentioning that the most common obstacle to people developing their organizing capacity within SeaSol has been personal disorganization, i.e. not keeping a calendar. Just by the simple step of starting to keep a calendar, we’ve seen hopelessly flaky people go through dramatic transformations and become awesome organizers.

    Inside organizing

    In which we describe our current efforts towards expanding SeaSol’s scope to include the building of worker and tenant committees within workplaces and apartment buildings.

    So far, most of SeaSol's workplace-related fights have been in support of someone who has already quit or been fired, and either they're owed wages, or they were fired unjustly, or the employer is still retaliating against them in some way (threatening to sue them, stopping them from getting unemployment or injury benefits, etc). Likewise most of our landlord fights have been in support of someone who has moved out of the building and has had their deposit stolen or been charged unreasonable fees. In these situations, the ex-employee or ex-tenant no longer has much to lose in fighting back, since the target employer or landlord is no longer in a position to fire or evict them. This makes it possible for us to launch almost immediately into a public action campaign to deal with the individual injustice.

    On the other hand, when we're working with someone who wants our help in fighting their current boss or landlord, the strategy has to be different. If an individual worker or tenant were to target their current boss or landlord with a SeaSol campaign, while still isolated within their own workplace or apartment building, they’d be almost certain to get hit with extreme retaliation, if not outright firing or eviction. Therefore in this situation, instead of immediately launching an open campaign to support the individual, our first task is to help them build up a strong committee of workers within the workplace, or of tenants within the apartment building. This has to happen “under the radar” as much as possible, through careful one-on-one organizing. Only then, when there is a united group within the workplace or apartment building, does it make sense for them (or for SeaSol) to launch into an open, public struggle against the boss or landlord.

    SeaSol is only now starting to put serious work into developing the capacity to do this kind of “inside” organizing effectively, while continuing to carry on our usual “outside” fights at the same time. We're going into this effort jointly with the IWW, making heavy use of the IWW’s on-the-job organizing training curriculum. It’s the next frontier. [cue inspiring theme music]

    Got questions? Want to talk to us? Coming through Seattle?
    Contact the authors:

    seasol-pamphlet.pdf1.69 MB
    seasol-pamphlet-expanded-US.pdf1.92 MB
    seasol-pamphlet-expanded-A4.pdf1.92 MB

    Federations and networks guide

    Information about different ways of setting up effective organisations that have more than one group or section within them.

    What is a federation?
    Federations are essentially unions of autonomous organisations and/or affinity groups. An anarchist federation can be viewed as the regional, or national, or international decision making body of the union (depending on the federation's self-imposed geographical limitations) and the collectives or affinity groups that belong to the federation can be viewed as autonomous union locals. Federations are formal organisations with constitutions, bylaws, and specific membership guidelines. There are three general types of federations that have been formed in recent memory, they can be refered to as "Specialist", "General Revolutionary", and "Synthesist" Federations. This terminology is in no way standard, but it is useful for purposes of description.

    Specialist federations
    Federations, like affinity groups and collectives, can exist to serve a specific role or achieve a specific goal. An example of a "specialist" federation is the Anarchist Black Cross Federation (ABCF, which exists to do support work for political prisoners.

    General revolutionary federations
    Federations can also be very broad in scope and focus on organising around a particular political viewpoint, as well as doing organising work and activism that embodies and advances that political view. An example of a "general revolutionary" federation is the North Eastern Federation of Anarchist-Communists (NEFAC, which is a federation with a broad scope that does a variety of organising and activism consistent with the principles of Anarchist-Communism.

    Synthesist federations
    An Anarchist federation that is "synthesist" is one that attempts to be inclusive of all Anarchist tendencies and bring Anarchists of all the varying tendencies into a single organisation - a "synthesist federation" can be considered a subcategory of "general revolutionary" federations. The closest example of a contemporary "synthesist" federation is the defunct Love and Rage Federation (in North America).

    Federation structure
    How a federation is organised and how it makes decisions is entirely up to the members of the federation. But, in terms of decision making, it can be safely said that all currently viable Anarchist federations use recallable delegates that are sent by their collectives and/or affinity groups to federation assemblies to make decisions that pertain to the federation as a whole. In terms of the what the specific internal structure of a federation is or whether consensus or direct democracy is used by the federation to make decisions, there are no hard and fast rules other than the structure and decision making method used by the federation must be consistent with the fundamental principles of Anarchism.

    What is a Network?
    A useful way to define an anarchist network is to compare it to an anarchist federation. Networks are far less formal than a federation (although, some networks are formal enough in structure to blur the line between network and federation), and they usually only require an agreement to a set of principles or the sharing of a general political viewpoint as a qualification for membership. Also, unlike federations which emphasise collective action and organisation, networks emphasise autonomy over formal organisation. This does not mean to imply that anarchist networks are not organised or that they are against organisation. It simply means that their organisational focus is on allowing individual member groups to engage in actions that fit within the context of the network and utilise the network itself primarily for solidarity and support of the individual member groups as needed.

    Generally speaking, there are two main types of networks: formal networks and informal networks.

    Formal networks
    What typically makes a network formal is that it has a "global" decision making structure - meaning that, like a federation, there is an overarching body of delegates that make decisions pertaining to the network as a whole - in most other aspects formal networks are mostly the same as informal networks. A good example of a formal network was, the now largely defunct, Direct Action Network (DAN). 2005
    Adapted from Anarchism in Action by Shawn Ewald.

    Media and publicity guide

    How to get the word out about your group or campaign? There are two main approaches, which should both be used: using the mainstream and corporate media, and building your own independent media. This page contains advice on both.

    Media and publicity guide.pdf2.02 MB

    How to Write a Press Release

    A basic guide to writing press releases, compiled by Rachel Perrotta using edited press releases from Good Kids Mad City (GKMC).

    HowToWriteAPressRelease.pdf18.13 MB

    Independent media guide

    A guide with advice and information on developing your own media, from online and printed publications to speeches, flyposting and more.

    Independent media guide.pdf1.56 MB

    A guide to setting up and running stalls

    A guide with tips and advice for running a stall for a political or campaign group to distribute literature and maybe raise funds.

    Why set up a stall?
    Setting up a literature table at events is a lot of work; why should you put so much energy into this? Answers:

    A. Tabling makes money
    B. Tabling provides outreach for your group
    C. Tabling provides activity for members looking for something to do.

    All of these benefits are essential for building your group, and making it strong. It is important, especially when you are not involved in a local organizing drive, to generate activity and be seen. And, if your group is not active, and you do not plan any events, your members will drift away.

    Where to set up a table
    All of the following events and locations are useful and beneficial to some degree. They are listed in decreasing order of likely success (based on observations made by experienced East Bay IWW members):

    A. Big political events, demonstrations, and marches;
    B. Events of your own;
    C. Small events;
    D. Specific locations in your community;

    It is best to start with no more than one event or tabling effort per month and build up your momentum. The least likely to succeed (in terms of raising money or general outreach) is establishing a table in front of a supermarket or a transportation center. Tabling at big political events, on the other hand, while not especially conducive to organizing, is nevertheless much more conducive to raising money for the group and letting active folks know of your group's existence.

    Supplies you will need
    In order to successfully table and accommodate your volunteers, you should obtain the following (lightweight, yet durable materials are the best)

    A. Portable Tables (if none are available, a tarp laid out on flat ground will work)
    B. Folding Chairs
    C. Milk Crates (for transport; can double as chairs)
    D. Rubber Bands (wind is always a nuisance)
    E. A Cash Box and $20 in Small Bills for change (round your prices off to the dollar; it's much easier)
    F. Clip Boards (for petitions and sign-up sheets)
    G. Literature Racks (not essential, but highly useful, especially if space is limited)
    H. Tarps and Rope (in wet climates)
    I. Marker pens (always come in handy)

    And, a durable hand truck with straps for transport is essential. These can usually be found for very little money (less than $50) second hand. But get one that is durable and will last. Airport luggage carts are flimsy and will fall apart due to wear and tear.

    Free literature
    If your table is full of neat stuff for sale, you will be able to distribute a great deal of organizing literature for free, because folks who come to the table, whether to browse, buy, or ask questions, will inevitably accept any free information you provide. So, it is not a bad idea to produce some basic literature explaining what your group is working on and/or has accomplished. Petitions and Pledges of Solidarity are also useful to have. This is yet another benefit of setting up an table.

    Guidelines for setting up a stall (free literature and merchandise)
    1. Be sure that the name of your group appears on a sign or banner prominently displayed and visible from a distance. People want to know who you are.

    2. If you are selling merchandise: Have an appropriate amount of change in a cash box or other suitable container. The cash box should also contain pens, pencils, tape, scratch paper, etc. As the day goes on, if you are accumulating a considerable amount of money in the cash box, take out all cash except what you need to make change and put it in a safe place . Do not neglect to do this, so that the risk of theft can be kept to a minimum. Keep careful records of financial transactions while tabling – it might be a good idea to keep a record of donations, memberships, sales, and sales tax, separately.

    3. Make the table display as attractive as possible. A tablecloth perhaps, a variety of colorful books, shirts, eye-catching signs, posters, etc., will draw people over. Hang up shirts if you can instead of just putting them flat on a table.

    4. Put free literature front and center to make it as easy as possible for people to pick up something and take it with them.

    5. As people approach the table, stand up and engage them in friendly conversation.

    6. Always provide a sign-up sheet that offers further contact. Usually that contact would be a promise to receive the next issue of your newsletter or to notify people of an upcoming event you're planning. Forward a copy of these sign-up sheets to the person in your group who keeps track of your group's mailing list. This is more important for small groups for whom adding a few new members would be a big boost than for large groups, which will probably find it too much work and cost for minimal response.

    7. The person in charge of the booth should know prices of all merchandise for sale. Take an up-to-date price list of all merchandise. All items should be marked with the price, whenever possible.

    8. As the day goes on, straighten literature periodically to maintain a neat appearance of the table. For outdoor events, have with you a plastic sheet of some kind for a quick cover if it rains, and a bunch of clean rocks (or rubber bands) you can use to keep pamphlets from blowing away if it's windy. Protect the free literature as carefully from moisture and excessive dust as you would the merchandise for sale.

    9. If someone asks you a question about the material you are tabling that you don't know the answer to, try to get their name and phone number. Offer to find out the answer and call them back -- then do it. This is much preferable to giving incorrect information, or none.

    10. For groups that have merchandise brochures and can fulfill mail orders: If someone shows an interest in an item you can't supply right then, give them a merchandise brochure and invite them to place an order for it.

    Other ways to distribute free literature
    Coffeehouses: There are often vegetarian or eclectic cafés, coffeehouses or stores which are not corporate and cater to casual patrons who aren't rich people or trendy. Basically, they are places YOU would feel comfortable hanging out at with your friends. Some may be meeting places for activists. These are a good bet for leaving literature but, you should clear it with the people who run the place before leaving any literature. If they won't go for it, don't try to convince them. Just find another place where they will let you leave literature.

    CARE Packages: Send CARE packages of literature to people who write for more info about your group or its politics or who express an interest in anarchism in letters and e-mails pertaining to work your group is doing for anarchist-related projects. It is a good idea to be networked with other anarchists in your area so if people get information request letters, they can refer them to you so you can send the person a CARE package.

    Other collectives:
    Give your literature to other collectives and to friends whom you know will put your literature out. Some of them will also have THEIR OWN tabling projects. In this way, you can get more literature out than if your group were doing all the work themselves.

    Excerpted from How To Do A Red and Black Book Project by Scott, Insurgency Culture Collective with modifications by Shawn Ewald, Guidelines for Tabling with modifications by Shawn Ewald and from Steve Ongerth, East Bay IWW with modifications by Shawn Ewald.

    Book review writing guide

    Tips and advice on how to write a review of a book or pamphlet.

    Book reviews. If you write or publish anything reviews can be a gain or a pain. Even the pain of negative feedback can sometimes help. To readers they can be a warning, a source of information, or the leaping-off point for research and discussion. Just like there never seems to be enough books in the world, there's never enough reviewers, and it's a good way to develop critical writing skills.

    There are several reasons why you might want to review something. Maybe you know the author.

    Maybe you want a free book. Neither is automatically a bad thing, as long as you can do a reasonable review. At least one of the following should apply:

    - You can say if the book does what it tries to do.
    - You can fill in some interesting background to the book.
    - You think the book is good and should be more widely known.
    - You think it's awful and should be challenged.
    - You want to discuss the ideas in the book.
    - You can write an interesting piece on what the book made you think

    Just as you should think about why you're doing a review, you should ask why this book was written. This is probably more important than all the ins and outs of what goes on. Books get written on all sorts of subjects, but they all have their own axe to grind or point to prove. It might be 'rebellion is natural' or 'human ingenuity knows no bounds' but try and see if you can find it and sum it up in a couple of sentences.

    Your reader will want to know what you think of the book. Is it good or bad? Did you find it useful or annoying? Explain why. Is it infuriating because they don't say where quotes come from? Or because they think quoting big names proves something: 'Socrates! Well that's OK then!' as John Barker says (in Frankenstein and the Chickenhawks.)

    Try to give people some grasp on what's going on if they do go and read it. Reviews of books that no one else will ever find can be interesting too, because they communicate some of those ideas again. In this case you can be less wary of saying what happens in the book - though of course, it will help if you appraise it too.

    It's sometimes a good idea to lift examples from the book to show how they write or what point (they say) they're trying to make.

    Comparing and contrasting two books that are connected (e.g. a personal account and a historical overview of the same events) can be much easier than starting from scratch. You can also use your imagination to connect two different books.

    Sometimes the book you're reviewing is only a jumping-off point. John Barker's review of Tom Vague's Anarchy in the UK (on the Angry Brigade) is partly concerned with why it's not a very good book; mostly it's concerned with what it was like to be an activist in the early seventies.

    If you don't have in-depth knowledge of a subject, that needn't stop you reviewing a book about it. You could still use your common sense to discuss the subject, as well as what writers think.
    Try to be interesting but don't pad it out and don't worry if that means you end up with a short piece. Watch out for running off at a tangent. Sometimes that can be a good response to a bad book, but maybe stick to one tangent at a time!

    It's always a good idea to someone else to read your review; preferably someone who hasn't read the book.

    By the Kate Sharpley Library

    Flyposting guide

    Guide with tips and advice on flyposting, or "wheatpasting", for advertising and getting your message out to a wide audience on a low budget.

    Why flypost?
    Why not? Why be shy about what you want to say to the world? Almost all the information that reaches people in our society about the world around us goes through channels ('the media') which are controlled and mostly owned by people with a huge vested interest in keeping society how it is.

    While some stuff which challenges this gets through, the vast majority of news and views that reaches people is confined within very narrow boundaries - anything outside those boundaries is labelled as 'extremist', and easily dismissed.

    All sorts of dodgy people pay huge amounts of money to designers and councils to paste their consumerism bullshit all over our streets - why shouldn't you have your say?

    What to post
    Anything you like. Information you want people to know, events that are happening and news that never gets in the 'mainstream' media.

    You can also paste up all sorts of other things: artwork, slogans, surreal messages, stories. Anything that puts an alternative point of view onto our streets is playing a valuable role in undermining the 'status quo', by challenging people's automatic acceptance of mainstream values.

    You can make copies of things you like or design your own. If you are doing something that obviously comes from a particular group or organisation, remember to put 'not for flyposting' at the bottom of it.

    You may have access to a flashy computer and high quality copying or you may be writing something by hand and copying it in a shop. Don't be ashamed to put up really rough-looking stuff. The important thing is getting the message across - and no-one knows it's you anyway!

    Where you put your posters depends on what they are. Stuff with loads of information on needs to be where people are likely to read it all - bus shelters are good, but your poster won't stay up very long. Look out for old posters that are still up - a sure sign of a site with a long life. Show some respect to fellow flyposters and don't stick your stuff on top of theirs unless the event has already happened (unless they're a dodgy Nazi outfit, of course!). You may like to post your stuff over billboard adverts that you don't like - your poster may even be specially designed to go over particular adverts. Obviously though, don't post it anywhere anti-social (i.e. some person's house, car etc).

    Be warned though, that if you start regularly posting up over the big music posters, you may end up getting a visit from some very unsavoury types - that operation is run by some very dodgy gangs who are not adverse to a bit of aggro if they think you're invading their 'patch'.

    Our favourite spots include disused buildings, lampposts, tube stations, backs of buses (if you're cheeky enough!), street furniture, pub toilets. Be audacious! If you're targeting an individual corporation, stencilling the steps up to their office with your message is often a good way of reminding them of your cause!

    The most important thing is to get the message out!

    How to flypost
    You need: wallpaper paste, a big paint brush (some people prefer rollers) and a bucket. Plastic bags are less obvious than a bucket, but make sure to use two or three bags - spilt paste can be very messy! Another very useful bit of kit is a bicycle - it's amazing how much more you get done!

    It's best to post in pairs (or threes), so one can keep a lookout, Watch out also for closed circuit TV.

    Remember that if you look shifty and nervous you will draw attention to yourselves - also being relaxed helps you appreciate just how much fun you are having,

    Paste on the wall where the poster is going to go. Put the poster up, press it flat and then paste over it again. This helps to smooth out bubbles, and also makes it harder to rip the poster off.

    Some people prefer to flypost in the dead of night, some do it in broad daylight. This depends a lot on the area you are in, it's up to you.

    The law
    In most areas there are local by-laws against flyposting. Breaking these by-laws is a criminal offence, which means that if the police catch you, you can be arrested and charged and possibly end up in front of magistrate getting a small fine.

    The Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 increases maximum fines from £1000 to £2500, with authorised council officials now able to issue £50 'on the spot' fines. Note that it's only the person caught flyposting that can get prosecuted, not the company or club advertised on the poster.

    Make sure you've got some idea of your rights if you are arrested, just in case - this will make you feel a lot more confident dealing with the police.

    Other ideas
    Stickers: you can make these on a computer, or use sheets of stickers by drawing onto all the stickers on one sheet, then photocopying from that.

    Stencils: Good for putting a message up quickly, Especially good for symbols/ logos/ pictures?. Best made out of lino to last a long time and stay flat easily.

    Banners: Another handy method of drawing attention to your message is to paint up and old bedsheet and hang it from a busy footbridge (the pedestrian footbridge in Vauxhall, South London is especially good for this). Make sure that it's securely tied and that you won't be needing it for the night's kip!

    Taken from, edited by libcom

    Graffiti guide

    A beginners' guide to doing graffiti, covering paints, spraypaints, stencils, surfaces and general advice.

    What you will need
    Paint. Oh really. However, there are a fuck of a lot of different types of paint so here's a few pointers:

    Brush paints
    Come in several flavours. All of which are preferable to spray cans as they are not so environmentally damaging. We generally block the piece in using emulsion and then outline & highlight it using cans (if its in a dodgy place, or if its small) or more brush paint if we have time. Emulsion (or any other water based paint) is crap in the rain. Otherwise, it lasts a fair while and you can spray on top of it while its still wet. This is very handy. Masonry paint has all these advantages, being a water based, but also lasts literally a lifetime. You can get the colour you want made up in shops. Emulsion tends to be in boring colours, but you can get fucking wicked coloured concentrated dyes from paint shops that will dye a swimming pool full of white emulsion pink/purple/whatever. Powder/poster paint also mixes with anything water based These are quite cheap to get hold of. Emulsion and masonry paint are quite easy to tat, from scrap stores or people who have been redecorating. Masonry paint is more expensive to buy than emulsion, twenty quid for five litres-ish.

    Lasts fucking ages and you can use it in the rain - but you can't spray over it till it dries (3 hours ish - come back tomorrow night) and you have to use white spirit to get rid of it / wash brushes. Beware, it can be very runny. Gloss is expensive if you buy it (six quid a litre ish? not sure) but easily tattable.

    Spray cans
    Make these plan B, coz they are seriously toxic and totally unrecycleable. But if you are painting in a busy place they are extremely quick (speshly if you are using stencils) and come in super sexy colours. They are also very clean, speshly if you wear gloves. Most car spray paints are crap. But there are bitumen based blacks and a few other colours designed to cover bodywork chips that cover well and the blacks do not come off. There is one particular make called stonechip that you can get in black and white that is very shexy. With a New York fat cap (see next section) it comes out nice and slow, never drips, covers everything and is perfect for outlines. Art sprays are hard-ish to get hold of and cost about £3.50 for a 400 ml can. You can get them in most large (UK) cities in record shops. Maybe its obvious, but spraying inside stinks.

    Nozzles (caps)
    Before you go out, make sure you've got the caps you need. Not having the right cap renders your spraycan useless. Fiddly little buggers. There are basically two types. Fat and skinny. Keep a few of each on you when you're out. Unfortunately all the makes of spray fit different caps. Working out which fits what is just trial and error. When you buy cans, get say five of each type that they sell (they're usually about 20p each) and experiment. When you buy art sprays, the nozzle they come with is usually fine, with car/plasticote sprays (not recommended anyway coz they're shit and really seriously poisonous to our planet) the nozzles are often crap. After using the can, either turn it upside down (so paint doesn't come out) and spray propellant through the cap to clear it, or take the cap off and blow through it. I prefer blowing coz it gives you multicoloured hard wearing lipstick. Some caps, for instance the New York skinny cap, don't fit on many cans because of a ridge of plastic about half way up the tube. You can shave this off with a craft knife to make 'em fit.

    It is our mission to bring on roller use to the masses. Rollers are fucking cool. You can get 3/4 inch ones that are really good for smaller funky writing. Big ones are good for massive pieces. You don't really need a tray. Overalls are good though if you don't want to travel home covered in paint. Look after the rollers well, coz once they go hard you can't really use em.

    Are slow, so I don't use them so much (fiddly things, outlining, or alongside rollers if the surface is super uneven.) But there is one pixi who only ever uses a brush and it works fine anywhere thats not too on-top. Wicked for legal walls. Brushed graffiti looks super-cool I reckon. Fuck spray-paint snobs. Brushes are where its at.

    You can get latex ones from car part shops. You can nick not latex ones from hospitals. Remember to take them off after you've finished. I guess they're used to it, but if you forget you'll get funny looks when you're buying milk off the milkman at five in the morning.

    Easy to make from photocopies. Use acetate, card or lino, even thick paper and have some kind of folder to put them in (plastic folders are best as card sticks and rips easy). You'll need to gaffa them to the wall if you are on your own. Mind they don't stick to the folder when the paint is wet.

    You can get wet chalk pens for writing on shop windows and black boards. They don't come of when they dry unless you scrubb 'em. We got them from friends working in offies. You can get them in motorists shops. They don't work at all in the wet, or on porous surfaces. Good for the inside of bus stops, sitex, that sort of thing. Worth carrying one around with you. Permanent markers work too, but they're small and generally black.

    You can paint on virtually anything, don't restrict yourself to walls and trains. Knowing which paint to use on which surface is trial and error. As a general guide though:

    Concrete = Good. Its butt ugly anyway so you can't go wrong. Its also about the right smoothness and porousness. Spray paint will soak into very porous surfaces, so it is good to put a layer of emulsion on first as a primer.
    Metal (trains, buses, sitex) = good. Watch for serious drippage though. Same with the shiny subway surfaces.

    So far as locations go, be as imaginative and cheeky as possible. You might wanna do a quick piece where loads of people will see it, like a motorway bridge, or a more detailed piece where people will stop and have a look, like down an alley/carpark/river bridge. Try bus stops, cash points, bins, walls, pavements, garage doors, roofs, billboards, fur shops, posh hotels, embassies, McDonald's etc. etc. The more you have to pretend to be a ninja, the more fun it is. For example...some pixies snuck, (all the time pretending to be ninjas..) inside Campsfield Immigration Detention Centre and wrote "FREEDOM" on an inner wall facing the inmates sleeping quarters, some more wrote anti-nuke stuff all around the Aldermarston Military base.

    Some hints
    1) Take a mate. Its more fun, and then you have a lookout. Know what you're going to paint before you get there; you don't want to be hanging around trying to think of something. Sometimes it helps to carry a drawing around with you. If in doubt, have a few quickies in the back of your mind incase of mental block. Anti-war slogans, local campaigns, web addresses (URL's) are good. Organise yo'self, make sure you got all the nozzles, colour etc. and you know where they are. Remember something to open paint tins with. Don't paint too much stuff near your house. it'll make you paranoid.

    2) It'll be dark when you're out. So write in big letters on your paint cans what colour it is. Saves lighter fuel.

    3) Booze...get the mixture right. Too much alcohol and your piece will look shit. Whether or not you remember doing it, it'll still be there in the morning (in the busiest, CCTV'd, most on-top spot next to the cop shop on the high street..) and all your mates will know it was you. Live with the shame, or risk community service and go and paint over it tomorrow night.

    4) One Crime at a time. I reckon this is a good tip if you don't wanna get pulled over for having no lights on yer bike when you're covered from head to foot in paint, carrying all your stencils and wearing latex housebreaking gloves. Might as well leave your drugs at home as well. Also, its a good idea to keep your house free of incriminating stuff, even sketches. Especially if your house is likely to get busted anyway. May sound paranoid, but people do get seriously nicked for painting sometimes. Years in a few cases. Even if you don't get charged you don't want the hassle of having the police kicking your door in at three in the morning. Read our defendants' guide to arrest

    Taken from the Pinka Punka Pixies website
    Edited by libcom

    Guide to giving speeches and presentations

    Tips and advice of public speaking, making speeches and giving presentations effectively.

    Giving speeches and presentations is one of the most basic ways that an activist can communicate their ideas. Every activist should have at least a little experience with public speaking.

    Speaking tips
    Feeling some nervousness before giving a speech is natural and healthy. It shows you care about doing well. But, too much nervousness can be detrimental. Here's how you can control your nervousness and make effective, memorable presentations:

    1. Know the room. Be familiar with the place in which you will speak. Arrive early, walk around the speaking area and try practicing using the microphone and any visual aids.

    2. Know the audience. Greet some of the audience as they arrive. It's easier to speak to a group of friends than to a group of strangers.

    3. Know your material. If you're not familiar with your material or are uncomfortable with it, your nervousness will increase. Practice your speech and revise it if necessary.

    4. Relax. Ease tension by going for a walk, doing some basic stretching, chatting with colleagues.

    5. Realise that people want you to succeed. Audiences want you to be interesting, stimulating, and informative. They don't want you to fail.

    6. Don't apologise. If you mention your nervousness or apologise for any problems you think you have with your speech, you may be calling the audience's attention to something they hadn't noticed. Avoid pointing out your own imagined inadequacies, your audience has a higher opinion of you than you think.

    7. Concentrate on the message - not the medium. Focus your attention away from your own anxieties, and outwardly toward your message and your audience. Your nervousness will dissipate.

    8. Turn nervousness into positive energy. Harness your nervous energy and transform it into vitality and enthusiasm.

    9. Gain experience. Experience builds confidence, which is the key to effective speaking.

    Tips for handling Question and Answer sessions
    If you don't hear the question or understand it, ask the questioner to repeat it.

    1. Try to keep calm, even if your audience is hostile or upset.

    2. Always respect the questioner, even if you do not like the question or the manner in which it is posed.

    3. Don't feel offended if someone asks you a question that you feel you already answered in your presentation or a previous question, they may not have heard or understood the information previously presented.

    4. Honesty is the best policy, if you don't know the answer to something, admit it - you can offer to get in contact the person later with an answer.

    Excerpted by libcom from 10 Tips For Successful Public Speaking with modifications by Shawn Ewald and Handling Q & A.

    Guide to setting up a local newsletter

    A guide with tips and advice on how to set up a newsletter in your local area to cover issues that affect local residents.

    Organise a meeting
    You've talked about it down the pub with a few mates. You all think it's a great idea. There are a few more people you can think of who'd be interested. So just get on with it - it's not going to happen otherwise. Fix a date, time and venue (could be someone's house, it's not a public meeting). Leave other possibilities wide open. It's important for everyone to have had a say in the shaping of the project from the start.

    Get it all sorted
    There's no point in having your founding moment and then coming away having vaguely agreed to do something soon. Probably. When we've got our act together. The minimum you should have agreed is a name and address, which will in turn enable you to set up a building society account in your newsletter's name. We use a PO Box, which costs about fifty quid a year. We had to chip in up front to start it but donations over the next 12 months covered the renewal (just). It would probably be better to have an actual local street address, not just to save cash but so people could drop stuff in by hand and bypass the official mail system.

    Think of a good name
    OK, maybe you can't take that advice from a group with a title like The Pork-Bolter. But it is a genuinely historical nickname for Worthing people and the piggie identity has provided us with hours of puns. The main requirements are that it should be a local name and that it shouldn't put people off reading your stuff by being too overtly political. This may not come naturally to most would-be rabble-rousers, but you are addressing ordinary people here and not fellow subversive scum. On the same lines, there is no need to invent a seperate name for the group producing the newsletter. It may well prove an own goal to declare that ON THE BOG - What's Going Down in Little Bogweed is published by the South Bogshire Emiliano Zapata Revolutionary Militia Propaganda Outreach Cell.

    The nitty-gritty
    Thinking of a name is the fun bit and may well take up 95% of your opening meeting (if you let it). But you've also got to start thinking about boring detail, like what size is the newsletter going to be, how often will it come out, how many will you get printed and so on. Without wanting to come across all sycophantic, we were greatly inspired by the Sch-you-know-who in our inception and had no qualms about blatantly copying their format. You'd be amazed at how much you can fit on a double-sided piece of A4. As far as frequency is concerned, once a month seems about right for us. Quantity is obviously limited by funds. Try getting 500 done to start with, then up it to 1,000 or more if your distribution is working. Another advantage of double-sided A4 format is that it is easy to photocopy and you may be able to supplement your print run with the help of office-worker volunteers (and various people will be busy copying and distributing them round their mates and colleagues who you won't even know about ...).

    Cheap photocopying/printing is hard to come by, but very useful. Don't just rush out to the nearest High Street print shop. Ask around for ideas about cheaper options. Try your local student union or college print department or local resource centre. If all else fails, why not bring out the newsletter at whatever cost and appeal to readers for leads on cheaper printing. You never know who may come forward.

    Paying for it
    You'll probably find yourselves fulfilling this role. But spread between the group members it doesn't come to much. If you meet at someone's home instead of in the pub, you'll have probably paid for the next issue from what would have been spent at the bar. Other costs may well be covered by donations/subscriptions once you've got going.

    Getting it out
    Distribution is a piece of cake when it's free. It's just a question of getting them all out into the hands of the local population. You can do that most directly by standing in the town centre and thrusting them rudely into people's hands (with a smile on your face). And you can leave them in public places like the library and town hall (small amounts but frequently - they tend to get removed). Ask in shops if you can leave a pile on the counter. And in pubs. You'll be surprised at the positive reaction to a lively local newsletter. Keen people should also be able to subscribe for a small charge to cover postage (though since they're local you could drop them in by hand and save the stamp).

    You'd forgotten about that small detail, hadn't you? What do you put in the bloody thing? This should not really be a problem for anyone who's got as far as even thinking about doing a newsletter. First of all you read all the mainstream local papers. And then you get very angry with all the stuff the council's up to and the MP is spouting on about. And then you don't just forget about it and resolve not to read annoying local papers anymore, but instead you cut out the relevant bits and bring them along to the next newsletter meeting. And everyone else says how crap the council is and takes the piss a bit and someone else has cut a bit out of The Big Issue which sort of fits in. Meanwhile, a person with biro-manipulating skills writes down the best bits. And lo, the contents start to emerge. Add in your own little campaigns (anti-GM, anti-CCTV, anti-negative attitudes etc), plus titbits about worthy local groups (Friends of the Earth, animal welfare, etc, etc) and you've got a newsletter.

    Gives a positive focus amidst all the sniping from the sidelines. But obviously depends on what's happening locally. And what you're into.

    Keep it local
    Forget the recommendation to act locally and think globally. You have to start thinking locally as well. Only then can you go on to draw your political conclusions. For instance, trying to persuade people here that global capitalism is a bad thing because it is destroying the Amazon rainforests is a waste of time. But talk to them about the way that money-grabbing property developers are allowed to build all over green spaces on the edge of your town and your readers will understand why you then call for an end to the rule of greed and money over people and countryside. In your newsletter your views can clearly be seen as common sense. You are normal and the council/property developers/government are the outsiders - reversing the way radical views are conventionally presented. Use words like 'we' and 'our' a lot.

    Have a laugh
    A jokey approach makes people read your newsletter and explodes certain ill-founded stereotypes about types involved in radical political initiatives. Could be a problem, though, if your group does in fact happen to be entirely composed of humourless left-wing gits.

    Remember that you can get done for libel if you make certain claims about individuals. Get round this with humourous digs and heavy use of satire and sarcasm (think Private Eye, Have I Got News For You, etc). It is worth knowing that you cannot libel a council - so go for it!

    You yourselves are the new media for the town, so you don't need to worry about publicity. But if they want to give a rival organ a boost, that's just dandy.

    Carry on publishing
    There will be ups and downs. New people will join your circle. Others will drift away. It might seem like nobody's taking any notice of you at all. But in fact your subversive message will be permeating the very fabric of your community. It's got to be worth it.

    From The Pork-Bolter, Worthing, UK

    Guide to starting your own zine

    Tips and advice on starting a zine-style publication, from format and content to distribution and finance.

    Are you ready to do a zine?
    This is probably the most important question you should ask yourself when you're considering doing a zine -- are you really ready to do one? Doing a zine can take up a lot of your time and become a big responsibility. There's no reason that you should have to do a whole zine -- if you aren't sure you can handle a zine on your own, consider maybe contributing to zines that you like or getting a couple friends to do one with you.

    Also, just because anyone can do a zine doesn't mean they should. Not everyone is suited to the kind of work that goes into zines, and there's a lot of forms of creativity that just don't translate well into a zine. That said, if you have a lot of ideas and you think this is the way you want to express them, here's how to do it!

    What kind of stuff will be in your zine? Obviously, before you start actually making up pages you need to have some idea what you're going to put on them. Start collecting clipped stuff, pictures, notes on things you want to write. Your zine can be about any subject you want (or all the subjects you want). Once you've decided what you're going to put in your zine, start working on it -- it's a lot easier to do a zine with a bunch of work you've already finished than to try and do one from scratch.

    Size and format
    Once you've decided what you're going to put in your zine, you need to decide what it's going to look like – what size, and what format you'll do it in.

    There are lots of formats to do a zine in. As you order zines, you'll see that some people use "nicer" printing methods -- better paper, or color. But for a first zine, your best bet is photo-coping. It's easy, you can make up copies as you need them (instead of having them all sit in piles in your closet) and the art looks clean because of the white paper. Half-size zines like this look nice, especially if they're stapled properly. You also can experiment with colored paper for the whole thing or the cover, or even an insert. The two bad things about photocopying: Collating (putting the Xeroxed pages in order) can be a real pain (a zine I worked on once had 24 full-size pages, and we made 500 copies -- it took FOREVER to put them together), and if you have a lot of pages it can get very expensive. The biggest advantage is that you can put out a zine like this with practically no money -- just get a few copies together at a time, after you get an order with money in it.

    When you're copying your pages, you can do almost any size zine -- the folded-in-half size is pretty much the standard. You can also do full pages and just staple them together, or even do the pages on 11" x 17", fold them in half and staple, and voila! a zine that looks printed. Other variations I've seen: legal-size Xeroxes folded in half (makes a squarish zine) and pages that have been folded in quarters and even sixths, stapled and trimmed to make mini-zines. Remember that the size page you use will affect the number of pages in your zine -- if you do a half-size zine, every double-sided copy = 4 zine pages, so you have to have a page count that you can divide by four (8, 16, 24, etc.).

    Plan on starting small -- start off with an issue with a really low page count to save money, and if you get enough to put out future issues, then start adding pages. One girl I know does incredibly tiny Xeroxed zines, but she also does a new one every time she has something new to say or show, whether it's a week later or a month. A zine doesn't have to be big to be good, that's for sure.

    Once you've decided what's going into the zine, you can start worrying about making up your pages. You don't have to make the pages in the correct order, but you do need to make them the correct size. Make up a bunch of "flats" (base pages you glue everything up on) -- you can use any kind of paper for this. (If you are doing a full-size zine you might want to consider a heavy paper, like card stock, for the base.) Make the pages the size of your zine pages -- if it's a half-size zine just cut 8-1/2" x 11" paper in half, and so on. Number the pages on the back or right on the flats if you want page numbers in your zine. When that's all done, you can paste up anything you want onto the pages. (Keep in mind that a Xerox machine will cut off about 1/8-1/4" on the edges, so don't put anything important too near the sides.)

    Next figure out how many pages you're going to have, and start working out what you want to put on each page. If your zine is full size, it's pretty simple, but if it's a half-sized zine, you're going to have to lay them out and copy them in the right order for them to come out the way you want. The easiest way to do this is to make up a blank zine, the length that yours is going to be. Fold the pages in half and make it the same size as yours. Go from front to back like you're reading it, and number the pages as you go. You can also make notes on what you want to put on each page. When you're finished making up all your individual pages, you can take it apart, and just glue the flats down on the blank numbered pages wherever you want them to go. Now you have a double-sided original, which will make it easier to remember how to Xerox them.

    The stuff on the pages
    The text (writing) in your zine can be done any way you want -- from handwritten to nicely typeset.

    Handwriting is an option if your handwriting is VERY legible (ask someone else if you aren't sure how legible it is) and you use a good black pen. Don't use colored pens, and never use a ball-point. Typing on anything from an old manual typewriter to some spiffy new electronic one will always work. Try marking the outline of the area you want filled with type in pencil on a regular size sheet of paper, and then type directly on it, following the outline. Then erase the pencil, cut it out and paste down. And if you have access to a desktop computer or even a good word processor (if you don't know anyone with one, try school) you can actually typeset stuff for your zine.

    As far as art goes, anything that's black and white (even if the "white" part is grayish or yellowed), like drawings or stuff you've cut out of magazines, will usually come out just fine. You can photocopy most colors, too -- try different things out. And you can copy almost anything to make a background pattern -- I've put half my clothes on a copying machine at one time or another. Experiment! One of the big advantages to photocopying is that you can reproduce so many things with no extra cost or effort.

    Photographs should be black and white, although most color pictures will reproduce okay. Again, you'll have to experiment. They should be as focused and clear as possible. You can either paste the actual photo into place if it's the right size, or you can Xerox it and paste the Xerox into your page. If you want them to really look like photos, you can get a "half-tone" made. A half-tone makes a "continuous-tone image" (like a photo or pencil drawing, things with grays in them) into a black-and-white dot pattern that looks like a photo, but actually isn't. If you look closely at any (black and white) photo in a newspaper, you'll see that they are really made up of a lot of little dots. Halftones should be pretty easy for you to get, but they usually aren't cheap. The best thing would be to look in the yellow pages -- try printers, graphics, maybe advertising production if they have it. Any place that says it has "full production services" is a very likely bet. Spend an afternoon calling them up and asking if they do halftones. Most of them will say no, but in case you find a lot, ask them a test price -- ask them how much, say, a 8" x 10" 85-line-screen halftone would cost. Then of course pick the cheapest and closest place you found. Or if a place seemed really friendly or helpful, it might be worth a little extra to go there. (An 85-line-screen means that the piece of equipment they use to make the half-tone has 85 lines per inch -- there's actually 85 rows of dots in each inch of the screen.) But when Xeroxing, you can use a finer or a coarser screen -- a finer screen would look more like a photo, but it might not reproduce as well. If you wanted a big dot effect you could get one done on a coarser screen, they usually go down to 45-line screens at most places. Ask them to show you some examples. Also, if you have access to someone's computer with a scanner, you can scan in the photos and print out a half-tone. Not quite as perfect, but a lot cheaper!

    Pasting up pages
    Once you've got all your contents organized and ready to be put together, start pasting up the pages (gluing everything down) one at a time. Don't feel rushed, you can do it in fits and starts for as long as you want – you're not on a deadline here.

    You can use scissors to cut things out, or move up to x-acto knives (special knives for doing crafts and things -- you've probably seen one before, all office supply stores have them). I personally recommend the "X-ACTO gripster", which has a rubber coating on the part you hold. They're much cooler. When you cut things with an x-acto, put the paper you're cutting on top of a piece of cardboard or something similar. It keeps you from cutting up the tabletop, and also makes the cutting much easier.

    Paste things down with glue sticks (you can get these from any office supply also -- I recommend the purple-tinted UHU glue stick, it's my favorite), not a regular glue like Elmer's or something -- those wet glues will make the paper buckle up really bad. Make sure you give whatever you're gluing down a good coat or it might fall off when it dries! Once you've put something down on your flat you can wiggle it around and even peel it back up if you have to, but only for about the first 10 seconds. Be careful! Make sure you're putting things where you want them. Be neat or be sloppy -- look at other zines to get inspired.

    When you've finished up the individual pages, you need to get them ready to copy. If your zine is full-sized, all you have to do is put them in order. If it's half-sized (or some other wacky size), you're going to have to make originals that are the same size as the paper you're copying them onto, and in the correct order. Follow the directions under "LAYOUT" to make up your originals.

    Printing (i.e. photocopying)
    Once your originals are completely finished, you can go get your double-sided copies made. (If you do not have double sided originals, be very clear when placing your order if you don't do the copies yourself.) Do as many as you think you'll need, but don't feel like you have to make too many. You can always get more done. Plus, it's easier to collate smaller numbers at a time. Once you've got your copies back, you need to collate them (put them in order), and fasten them somehow. You can staple them together, leave the pages loose but folded in the right order, punch holes in the center and tie them together -- or come up with something entirely new. (A lot of people ask how you staple a big zine right in the center -- the secret is a long-reach stapler that is at least 12" long. A lot of copy shops have one available for people to use, and if you're going to be doing a lot of zines, you can find them at any big office supply place.) All done? Voila! You are a proud parent.

    Finance - budgeting your zine
    I'd say that money is a consideration for almost everyone doing zines (unless you're independently wealthy or you work at a Kinko's). With your zine do you expect to: (A) lose money; (B) break even; or, (C) make a little money? If you expect to make a little money, well, think again. If you expect to lose money (not much of course), good for you. I lose money on most of my projects. But I consider the non-financial rewards to be more than worth it. (What are they, you ask? Well, mail, other zines, positive feedback, new friends, stuff like that...) And if you want to break even, well, you've got a really good chance!

    You need to figure out a balance between your cost and your price -- you don't want to charge too much, but you don't want to go totally broke either. Your cost will obviously depend on the number of pages in your zine. Your price should be as low as you can afford, and will depend on your distribution. Keep in mind that $1 is a standard zine price -- if you're charging $3 (even if that's your cost), a lot of people simply won't risk $3 on something they've never seen before. Keep your zine small and keep the price low.

    For example, a typical half-size zine, at 20 pages (5 double-sided Xeroxes) will cost you 65¢ at Kinko's (if you find a cheaper place, use it!!) If you charge $1 for it, you'll make a little money when you sell it in person, break even if you sell it in a store, and lose a little bit when you mail it. It should come out about even. If your zine's a little bigger, you might want to put $1 on the cover, and charge $1 + postage by mail. Like I said, sell it for as little as you possibly can -- and when pricing it you should also take into consideration how many you plan on doing. Losing 25¢ each on 50 copies is a few day's lunch money. But 25¢ each on hundreds of copies could break you for sure.

    There are several ways to get a zine out into the world, including: giving out/selling copies yourself (at shows or school or whatever); doing mail-order yourself; having other mail-order/distribution places handle copies; and, selling it in stores.

    Distributing it yourself involves two possibilities, doing it in person or through the mail. In person you have the most options, you can sell it or give it away, and even sell it to some people and give it to others. Doing mail-order yourself is the most popular approach by far -- you need to figure out a price that will include postage and then get exposure for your zine through ads and reviews. (You can either charge the cover price, or add extra for shipping. A lot of zines will make it on one 32-cent stamp, others need 55-cents postage. Take a copy, or a blank one of the same weight, down to the post office and find out.)

    Selling directly to stores (or more likely, putting on consignment) is also an option. Any store that you or a friend can get to (on a regular basis) is a good place to try and put copies on consignment. You may have to negotiate the amount with each store individually, but you should get 60-75% of the cover price. Don't take less than 50%, ever. You'll have to make up a consignment slip and have it signed by someone with authority, unless they have one already. Usually you set a time limit on the consignment, and at the end of that time, they have to give you money for all the copies they don't have and give you back whatever's left. But you can work this out depending on your relationship with the store. There's lots of combinations of this depending on what you can afford and how into it you are. You could give it away locally in stores or at shows, but charge for it by mail. Or only do it by mail. Do whatever you feel comfortable with.

    Getting exposure
    If you're selling your zine by mail, there are two ways to get people to order: through ads and through reviews.

    Ads are always good. A lot of smaller zines will trade ads for free, and classified ads in bigger zines can get a really good response.

    Reviews are very important -- not only can you get orders from them, but good reviews will help you get ads, distributors and encourage people to pick your zine up if they see it somewhere. Other places you send copies to will be determined by the content of your zine. Judge for yourself whether you think the readers of a particular publication would be likely to like your zine. When sending a review copy, it's a MUST to attach/enclose a note which clearly states your name, the name of the zine, your address, and mail-order price of the zine.

    Trade copies with other small zines like yours, especially if they list other zine addresses. (And list addresses of zines you like in return.)

    Whatever you decide to do, remember that this is supposed to be FUN. If you start getting burnt out, or sick of doing zines, then stop. Fill your orders, but don't feel like you have to keep putting out new issues. If you want to change the name or content of your zine, go right ahead! There are no rules -- you can do whatever you want!

    By Sarah Dyer

    Interview conducting guide

    Tips and advice on carrying out interviews with people for articles, publications, books, etc.

    Interviews can be a useful tool to aid publishing and media efforts. Think of them as an opportunity to get information you don't already know. It is a particularly useful way of relieving the pressure on people intensely involved in a particular struggle who don't have the time to report on their activities and perspectives.

    You should research your subject first. It may be that your interviewee is a shop steward in a workplace on strike, or was active in the Miners Support Group in your town in the 1980s. Research this first so that you are sure you are asking appropriate questions. Leave them open - this means you should avoid questions that can be answered yes or no. An example:

    Avoid: Did you support the printers at Wapping?
    Instead use: How did you support the printers at Wapping?

    The second example will lead into specific activities - and some of these may be particularly interesting. For example, Albert Meltzer, then a few years off retirement and active in the print-workers union, had his car "break down" in the road leading up to Wapping, thus blocking the scab lorries. Only the second approach would have revealed this. And of course, be prepared that your interview might go off on tangents! Interviewees will regularly say something you weren't expecting or need to know more about.

    Try to put the interviewee at their ease. Be relaxed - someone is far more likely to say something interesting or new if they are feeling comfortable. You should also be careful about anything that might be incriminating or put others at risk.

    There may be times when you are doing a hostile interview, or one with someone who you might be critical of (an anarchist who is standing for election, for example), be particularly probing on areas you think are weaknesses. However, don't let your criticisms derail the interview - if anything plan it so that the uncritical stuff comes first.

    If interviewing someone in person, as opposed to by email it is a good idea to record it - particularly if it is one done on the spur of the moment. Unless you can do proper shorthand, you will find a dictaphone, tape-or digital recorder useful. You should get the interviewee to agree to be recorded. I once did an interview on a demo by scribbling it down on a pad but it's not a method I would recommend.

    Interviews should be written up as they occurred and then use this as the basis for the final article to be published. Even a straight question and answer format will benefit from this. Think about whether the interview is for publication or for background research. A longer article can quote from the interview. The original transcript should be kept - both in case there are challenges to your reporting and as a part of general working class oral history. (The KSL, website below, would welcome such transcripts as an aid to research - see the oral history article).

    Suitable people to interview include:
    * Participants in specific struggles, past and present. This is particularly the case if you are writing an article about something in the past.
    * People with expertise in an area of knowledge - e.g. an anarchist midwife about proposed changes to maternity wards, a railway engineer about a train crash, an ecologist about the impact of a new road.
    * Political opponents - within specific struggles and possibly generally if there is a good angle.
    I hope this has fired your interest in talking to people about their experiences and finding out more.

    By Martin H , the Kate Sharpley Library

    News report writing guide

    A guide to writing news stories for the independent and alternative media.

    The first thing to remember about reporting for a libertarian or anarchist newspaper or magazine is that it is not propaganda.

    Western consumers are far too media savvy to put up with preachy, badly written rhetoric. If you want to spread the word (hallelujah) then fine, go down the pub or knock on doors and ask people if they've heard the good news yet. Don't waste time writing it down and sending it to newspapers.

    The only thing between us and the mainstream media is that we are out to tell the truth, and they are mostly out to obscure it. Don't waste that basic strength by muddying the waters with excessive comment.

    With any publication though, a certain amount of bias is inevitable - that's why we wear our ideology on our sleeve. Media audiences all understand this, and if we wish to make an impact with what we write it must be able to stand up to the scrutiny of cynics and people looking to find fault. That means it must be fact, not opinion.

    Have confidence enough to let people make their own conclusions.

    With this in mind, here are some basic tips for reporting technique:

    There are six questions every journalist should ask about every news story. Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. The most important of these is Why, but find out the other stuff first, as it is the basis for all further questions.

    Think about the angle you want to come at it from. For instance, 2 million people are starving in the UK. Possible angles: UK government/society is letting down the elderly, a tragic but unavoidable loss, two million homes may be freed up for young families etc...

    Any of these can be made into articles, but it is important to know where you are coming from when you make up your list of questions.

    Motive is vitally important when talking about any misdeeds, and given the subject matter, your subject's motives will almost invariably be money and power.

    Follow those and read other lefties who have written about it - there often are some - and it will give you an idea of what other questions to ask.

    Always get paper, wherever you go. Contact numbers, official documents, stuff lying on the table where it shouldn't be, all of it. The more facts you have that have been written down, the better able you will be to justify the article you've written.

    Record conversations, either in written form, or via a tape recorder. Preferably both. The UK has the toughest libel law in the world and if you are trying to get into print in any paper with a circulation in four figures this becomes an all-important factor. I'll be writing about the basics of the law later, but remember the only sure-fire defence against libel is provable truth.

    Above all, don't fall into the trap of finding an easy answer which fits into your world view and then writing it up as unassailable fact. Dig, dig and dig some more. You aren't writing this for a wage and you don't have an editor forcing you to get as many stories done as possible.

    There is no excuse for laziness in your research (though equally, if you have a deadline for Christ's sake stick to it, there's nothing worse for an editor than slotting in an article to the paper and then being let down).

    One of the famous phrases that hover around in even mainstream circles is 'If you're not pissing someone off, you aren't doing it properly'. The other phrase is 'a good journalist has a little literary ability, a plausible manner and ratlike cunning'.

    Both make a good point. Don't get put off by someone making an angry denial, that just means either you haven't got your facts straight (so here's their chance to correct you) or you're on to something.

    Equally don't go in with all guns blazing looking for a fight, people will always be more likely to talk to you if they think you're on their side.

    If possible, always take or find a picture of the event you are reporting on. Pictures sell papers, and not just that, they give readers a much clearer view of what you are talking about. Where you can, have a camera with you at all times, preferably digital (for easier storage, transfer and not insignificantly, so you don't have to get worrying photos developed). Try and get wide angle shots so the sub-editor has more to work with, and a high pixel resolution so it’s big enough to look good on a page.

    Court reporting
    Do not report on active court proceedings unless you have taken an NCTJ or media law course, or have learned the ropes thoroughly from someone extremely experienced. It can end up putting you, the paper publishing you and their distributors into bankruptcy. You can even end up in jail if you don't know what you're doing.

    Writing with structure
    Once you have all the relevant information, the structure of the story is very important. Most professionals have a mental checklist:

    First paragraph: A very quick summation of the story (less than 3 lines for, including the 'hook' (the most interesting part of the story, the gimmick that makes it newsworthy).
    Second paragraph: Explanation of basic facts.
    Third paragraph: For preference, a quote from a source who is likely to know what they're talking about (this is to supplement the fact you are a journalist, not an expert in the issue you're reporting on).
    Fourth paragraph: More information and introduction of the other side - there always is one.
    Fifth paragraph: Quote from the other person.

    Subsequent paragraphs can have more quotes or info depending on the story, but always order it in descending level of importance/interest. Editors cut from the bottom up, and people read from the top down.

    Depending on the importance of the story it will warrant more or less attention. The current policy of Freedom is to give Features anything from 1,200-1,500 words, Headline articles and leads 600, Page second stories 450, page thirds 300 and Nibs (news in brief) 100-150. However if and when the paper changes to become a tabloid format, these numbers are likely to drop.

    Be concise. If a story can be adequately explained in 50 words, then do so. A good exercise is looking at news articles in the papers and working out how you could sum them up in ten words.

    Sad but true, most people rank their interest in the news as follows: 10,000 dead on another continent = 1,000 dead on the same continent = 100 dead in your country = 10 dead in your county = 1 celebrity eating grubs in a jungle. We can probably disregard the last bit, as it's far better covered by the mainstream press but the rest is still, unfortunately, relevant. The more local it is, the more interested people will be.

    People in general expect a certain style of writing from newspapers.

    This doesn't mean writing in stereotypes and clichés, it means not using long words when short ones will do (that's not a patronising attitude, it's just polite, I absolutely hate it when I have to translate from 'clever' to layman's terms - why say 'endeavour' when you can say 'try'?).

    More specifically, your writing style and tone should be aimed squarely at the market you are trying to capture. Freedom currently aims at people used to reading lengthier, more informative pieces, but has been looking to shorten at least some of its articles to accommodate a wider audience (hence the nibs section for example on page 2).

    To get an idea of the audie