Black Flag 214 (1998)


Issue of the London-based anarchist magazine Black Flag from the 1990s.

Submitted by Fozzie on April 6, 2018

Full contents in PDF at the bottom of the page.

Some of the shorter articles are below (with some longer articles linked). These are taken from the flag.blackened site and in some cases appear to be versions prior to final editing.

Thanks to Kate Sharpley Library for providing a physical copy to scan.


Editorial - the possible

Being a revolutionary anarchist can sometimes seem daunting. With all the attacks facing us from bosses, the State and other forms of authority, it can appear that a free society is a long way away. But in this issue there are a nuImber of articles which show that the way we organise can be achieved in the here and now and that in itself can open up new possibilities for resistance, creativity and self-organisation.

This can be on a small scale, as the example of the IWW in New Milton Shows. One person was able to make a difference. This doesn't mean that the five workers who joined the IWW will immediately or automatically become revolutionaries, but it will give them a sense of what can be done when you organise collectively in a libertarian way.

We speak to a Liverpool docker about the struggle of the whadfies in Australia. His message is clear “Each individual can change things, and collectively we can do more". The dockers are considering transforming their paper, The Dockers Charter, into a paper for a rank and file union movement. We hope they do, not because we see that as an end in itself, but because such a forum, run by a group as universally respected as the dockers, would open up more possibilities.

We interview Newham Monitoring Project, a grassroots group who haye done practical work against racist and police attacks for nearly 20 years, They used to be funded, but it was withdrawn last year. Despite that they carry on and the lessons we can learn from them are many, and relevant to much we do as anarchists.

And to Bradford -a lot of work well done, a lot of barriers broken down and communications established. But there is more to it than a weekend of celebration and discussion for 250 or so activists. One of the contentions of authoritarian Socialists like the SWP is that you need a centralised Party to “learn the lessons of the past". What events like May Day 98 in Bradford prove is that you don't and that forums which respect differences can be more constructive than anything that ever happens at Marxism.

Now who wants to organise next year's?

May Day 98

The May Day Celebrations in Bradford this year included not only a march and bands but a three day conference organised by anarchists from groups around the country.

May Day 98 grew out of the desire for change and self analysis that has been making itself felt in the movement for about a year. The main priorities of the conferences were not to produce any orderly proposals or achieve on-paper unity, but to talk to each other without sectarian barriers, to look honestly at our failures and to use our collective imagination as to the way ahead. To achieve this the conference was structured into groups of fifteen to twenty people and participants were split up from their mates to encourage a wider circulation of ideas and to stop cliques from dominating discussions.

The groups had four main themes for discussion, which were: away from the margins, all worked up, land ecology and the environment and dreamtime. Some groups stuck to this, others ignored it and just talked about what they wanted. Topics of note ranged from a discussion of space travel in one group to a big argument about whether we can have cups of tea after the revolution in another (If there's no tea I quit now! But we will eradicate lemsip.)

The conference was attended by about 250 people, a quarter women. There had been plans to have a women-only group, but most women felt this would mean the other groups were very male dominated. So instead there was one men only group (not self-selecting and some men weren't too happy about it) so that there were at least a third women in the other groups.

Some felt the conference would have been more productive if it had been more focused, but overall people were positive and felt inspired, especially by the friendliness and lack of backbiting. For me the conference was summed up by the feedback session on the last day, where instead of the usual dismal bureaucracy the room was buzzing, people were laughing, joking and hurling affectionate insults at the speakers. I left for once with faith in our movement, and hope for the future.

Trade Union Recognition

Recognition of trade unions by employers was initially sought and fought for by working people to ensure that proper collective bargaining took place and collective agreements were observed. This was a step towards securing reasonable levels of pay and working conditions. It could only be gained if workers were united and determined to get it.

The recent debate about whether legislation should be passed to allow employees to vote on whether they want to have a trade union recognised by their employer has little to do with these struggles of an earlier era apart from the recurrence of some of the terms.

In the 1990s trade unions have become massive and bureaucratic bodies with interests and agendas of their own quite distinct from those of their members. So the extent to which they represent and pursue the interests of their members is often slight and coincidental. So, any decision by Blair as to how the legislation on trade union recognition should be framed will have but little impact on working people at large and the problems and difficulties they face.

There are elements in the discussion that we should think about. For instance the argument about whether it is acceptable to require a level of support from among the whole of a workforce is an idea that has a history and a number of resonances. But there is one very particular consequence. The proposed level at the time of writing is 40%. No agreement to recognise a trade union in a place of work could be enforced unless at least 40% of the total of employees in that workplace had voted for it. Very few MPs obtained as much as 40% from the whole of their electorate. No post war government has ever got that much support Such a system applied to Parliament would return only half a dozen MPs. But let us leave such pleasant fantasies and get back to trade union recognition.

It is clearly a cheek for MPs to say what levels of support are needed to legitimise any proposal. And aside form this the trade union organisations are keen to get legislation that gives them the best chance of winning votes for recognition. This might be a means through which they can get back into the industries where their support has declined, mainly because trade union membership never stopped anyone from losing a job when a company was on the skids. Indeed trade union activism was often the factor that meant someone was picked out to be made redundant.

The employers' organisations are opposed to recognition presumably because they are living in a 1950s time warp and believe that the trade union recognition means trade union activism which means that working people will again be campaigning and struggling with militancy and effectiveness for improved conditions and wages. I reckon that trade union recognition works as much in the interests of the employer as it does in the interest of the worker. Where trade unions are recognised the whole system of negotiations and deals works within a pattern that is acceptable to and often largely imposed by the employer. The significant industrial battles carried out by workers in the past decade have been conducted in spite of rather than with the active support of national trade union leaderships. The campaign of the Liverpool dockers is the outstanding recent example of this.

But trade unions can be useful. I have always belonged to the trade union appropriate to my job. Indeed I have been an active lay officer for over 25 years and regard trade union work in my workplace - defending people on disciplinary charges, accompanying members in meetings with managers, negotiating local conditions of service - as being useful work. But on the big issues the inertia of the large organisations and the hostility of highly paid trade union professionals to troublesome members mean that workers fight these battles outside the main organisations they have formed for the purpose.

Therefore I take the unorthodox view among trade union activists that recognition of trade unions by employers cannot have much impact on working people and that their most important campaigns will continue to be fought autonomously and using such external resources as they can recruit to their aid.

The success of these campaigns will depend on the levels of this support and the effectiveness and imaginativeness with which it used. Highly paid suits in top trade union jobs will make no helpful contribution here. They are more interested in influencing legislation on trade union membership and thereby extending their membership and income and the areas in which they can negotiate deals on behalf of their members and with the minimum contribution from the members as to what sort of deals they want.

Danish strike fails to bring home the bacon

About 400,000 private sector workers in Denmark went on indefinite strike on the 27th April) against a background of employers making big profits and workers having shown "restraint" for the last few years. Employers had refused to accept any demand that increased company costs, despite the fact that the economy is booming and workers wanted more time off.

The unions declared their willingness to re-enter negotiations but this offer was rejected. The employers locked out more workers in retail and distribution. By the third day of the strike the stock exchange fell by around kr34 bn.(about £3b) and foreign investors were getting jittery. The Social Democrat government warned that if the strike went on longer than 10 days they would be forced to intervene.

As in the big strike of 1985, there was a national meeting of shop stewards in Odense to decide on the outcome of the strike. The meeting agreed the formation of national and local co-ordinating committees to organise the running of the strike. This was also in response to the union leaders who were talking about opening negotiations where the demands of the strike could be watered down. The strike remained solid and the employers started to complain about a "workers' dictatorship" as they have to ask permission from the unions for any movements they want to make. The unions only allow things to happen on the basis of emergency cases. One cannot get petrol, cannot get out of some of the islands, without permission from the trade unions. During the strike there was a unionisation campaign with workers going to non-organised workplaces to recruit them.

On May 7th a special law dictating the terms of the "contracts" of the sectors affected by the strike (and lockout) was passed, thus making all further industrial action illegal. The striking workers returned to work the following Monday, though some held stop-work meetings and went home for the day. The new law gives between one and three extra days leave, depending on service, but it also cuts back on the employers' contributions to pension funds and abolishes a special tax paid by employers to cover some of the governments expenses for pay during sick leaves.

According to the government, the terms of the special law will not cost the employers any more than the agreement which was rejected by the workers and started the strike. We spoke to a Danish union activist attending the march for Social Justice in London and asked him about the end of the strike. His view was that Danish workers were too 'comfortable' to find the will to continue in defiance of the law. His union, the Scaffolders club of the general union, had instead used their anger and frustration to good effect in the local contract bargaining that was going on, and had signed new agreements with several previously non-unionised firms, usually after pickets. Other groups of workers have decided to stop their financial support for the Social Democratic party as a protest, such as the Copenhagen airport workers.

A short History of Polish Anarchism

An anarchist movement of Narodnik ( Russian anti-capitalist democratic activists of the late 19th century) and Anarchist ideas from Russia and Western Europe came into existence at the turn of the 1th century. The ideas were by no means uniform, from the uncopromising and controversial Nechaev, gallant Bakunin, anarcho-communist prince Kropotkin or Leo Tolstoy, promoter of a pacifist christian negation of statehood.

The first and most significant anarchistic group in the pre-independence Poland originated in 1903 in Bialystok and consisted in an enormous part of Jewish people. In the next years some similar centres came into being in Nieznow, Warsaw,Lodz, Siedlce, Czestochowa, Kielce and a couple of other towns.What particularly intensified activity in all centres was news from the Russian Revoluution, Bloody Sunday in St Petersburg. These groups took part in terrorist activity as well as propoganda actions such as attempts on police officers' and factory owners' lives. There were also bank robberies to gain funds. Nowadays the majority of us anarchists entirely reject such methods but to understand the motivation to act in this way it is important to realise the level of cruelty and despotism of the tsar's authority. For example in Warsaw, on Governer general Saklow's order, 16 young anarchists, (about 18 years old) were murdered by the authorities and their bodies thrown into the Vistula. Shots at demonstrating workers were not uncommon either.

At the same time material popularising the ideas of anarcho-syndicalism came pouring in. Adherents of this kind of anarchism repudiated terrorism claiming it did not contribute to an increase in society's consciousness, but on the contrary averted it from anarchism and caused disarray in the movement. That is why anarcho-syndicalists encouaraged other anarchists towards propagandistic activity and joining trade unions.

The best known theoreticians of Polish anarchism were Edward Abramowski, Waclaw Machajski and the anarcho-sydicalists Dr Jozef Zielinski and Augustyn Wroblewski.

Edward Abramowski claimed to be a non-state socialist . However it should be noted that the word "socialism" at that time did not have such a limited meaning as it has nowadays and a majority of groups of liberation, leftist groups and struggles for independence identified with it. Abramowski presented his views in works such as "Ethics and Revolution", "Republic of Friends " and "A Public Collusion Against Government". An alternative to the state system was, in his opinion, free associations of producers and mutual services federated in bigger co-operatives.) Only they are a support of a real freedom, give welfare, order, justice and brother hood to the individual. Furthermore they are organised from the grassroots, spontaenaeously without compulsion.Existing associates should form on a specified territory a free commune without authority and police. However the lack of a supposedly indispensable repression machinery does not mean the eruption of chaos into human life art all. The reverse happens- it releases energy and fervour that were being reduced in a system so far and that make people wanting to create the surrounding reality and to find themselves in it. An example of a big growth of social consciousness in the big solidarity days and then the repression of 13/12 ?????? is the best evidence of an enormous potential in people who have realised that they can change something in their life and surroundings at last. But let's return to Abramowski's theories. An unquestionable authority of those days, Tolstoy, had a considerable influence on his views. Follwoing him he advocatied non-paymnet of taxes and refusing to join the army. At the same time as being against the church as an institution he referred to Jesus' sermons which in his opinion denied statehood and authority. In his book "A public collusion agfainst governemnt" he gave some instructions about how people should struggle with the Tsar for thier own national maintenance. it certainly did not mean promoting another dictatorship which statehood is. Abramowski was also ( as every anarchist) opposed to national socialism. He prophetically warned "The politics of modern socialism is a politics of strengthening and extending national authority that tends not towards setting people free but towards towards authorising everything which only they themselves can authorise."

Another popular polish anarchist was Waclaw Machajski, born in 1876, an originator of a new current, so-called machajewszsczism. Originally he was a patriotic activist in the PPS party but gradulaly he came to anti-intelligentsia views. he claimed that all the greatest evil that surrounds people comes form ideas and ideologies of intellectuals. Although the consequence of that attitude was the setting aside not only of democracy and socialism but anarchism as well his ideology was closely related to this movemnt. Foretelling the constraints that follow socialism he augured an arrival of a slavish system in which bureaucratic machinery set up by intelligentsia would constrain an ordinary workman. During the interwar period syndicalist ideas had reercussions in the Union of Trade Unions ( ZZZ in Polish) this was 130000 strong and active from 1931-1939. The association presented itself to join the IWA. It is still active today and assembles anarcho-syndicalist and syndicalist trade unions. During the war the ZZZ and other organsiations formed the Polish Syndicalist Union (in polish ZSP) which actively battled against fascists. However it was not isolated from other formations and coperated with the National Army (AK) and the People's Army (AL). An illegal newsheet, the Syndiclaist, was published and ZSP detachments took part in the Warsaw Uprising.

Anarchistic ideas reappeared after the war at the same time as the Alternative Societies movementand the Sigma club which originated in the early 80s. Other groups like the Autonomous Anarchistic Federation of Lublin, Freedom and Peace, Intercity Anarchistic Federation and Orange Alternative shot up like mushrooms after that. They were all active against the communist system however as distinct from Solidarity they defended themselves with irony and humour and refusing to join the army than more traditional methods. A lot of the radical ecological activists came form these movemnts. Some still exist and there are new ones as well such as Social Activity Membership in Slupsk. Anarchist ideas of the workers movemtn found a lot of support. A group of the Anarchist Federation published a paper "Works" in Nova Huta.

An inspiration to that kind of activity was often the original Solidarity which has a lot of syndicalist features in its programme. "the only possible way to change the actual situation is to set up authentic workers' autonomies which would make the employees the real master of a factory. Our association demands a restoration of the autonomous nature of the co-operative. It is necessary to pass a new bill which will protect from administrative interference." This was passed by the National Deputies conference of NSZZ (Solidarity) in 1981. The real programme of this association is now much less radical and far from the original.

It should be said that Polish anarchist history is not as impressive as the Spanish, Italian or Russian. [ this is according to the Polish authors of this piece ] A strong desire for its own statehood after years of slavery won in Polish society. As always this situation gave independence to only a minority, to the majority only new chains. I hope the future will not bring us a sadomasochistic cult of the headman to Polish society but instead the triumph of freedom and autonomy.

Long Live Anarchy!

Obituary: Merle Austin Africa

In early March 1998, eco-revolutionary MOVE activist Merle Africa died in prison. As one of the MOVE Nine she was serving a 30-100 year sentence for a crime she did not commit having been framed by the Philadelphia Police in an attempt to silence the revolutionary voice of MOVE.

Despite knowing that she would probably die in prison, Merle was one of the strongest, most determined women I have ever known. Staunch in her belief in defence of life, all life, she always remained positive and focused. She never appeared bitter by her wrongful imprisonment, instead she turned her energies to compassion and support for others. When Merle found out that I'd been arrested under the Gandalf prosecution, she was quick to offer support and advice. Like all of the MOVE Nine, Merle was a staunch revolutionary. "MOVE's work is to stop industry from poisoning the air, the water, the soil, and to put an end to the enslavement of life - people, animals, any form of life."(quote from MOVE) With the death of Merle we have lost her inspirational voice and Chuck, Debbie, Janet, Janine, Delbert, Ed, Mike and Phil have lost their sister.

Obituary by Noel Molland (aka Rabbix)

For more information about MOVE read "A Quick Guide to MOVE" in BF209

Review: "Parliament or Democracy?"

by Kevin Doyle, published by the WSM, PO Box 1528, Dublin 8, Ireland. £2

This comprehensive, well written pamphlet is one I would recommend. It traces the evolution of the idea of democracy, what anarchists mean by the term and how the State uses it to have a completely different meaning. The roots of modern democracy lie primarily in the 18th century, with the revolt against those born to privilege which was the French revolution, and from where most modern European political ideas and movements can trace part of their ancestry. At school, we are always presented with a straight black and white question whenever there is a great historical moment. In this case, it is the absolute monarch against the people. Obviously, the 'people' are the good guys (no one these days who isn't an absolute monarch or an eastern mystic believes in divine right). But what's never mentioned is that the "people" aren't a homogenous mass, and contain both the would be new ruling class (the bourgeoisie) as well as peasants, artisans, workers and so on. They can all use democracy as a rallying cry, but the bourgeoisie put a number of conditions on it - property ownership and sex being the main ones.

The pamphlet goes on to address how workers organising was sidetracked into Parliamentary politics, and why as anarchists such parliamentary antics are the antithesis of our politics. An examination of Labour Parties records in power shows just how dismal was the failure of early socialists who trod that first step on the chimera of the Parliamentary road to socialism. A quick look at many countries around the world quickly shows that "democracy" as most people would understand it is not practised anywhere at a governmental level.

It would have been very easy to end the pamphlet with that, a survey that shows up how far from democracy Parliament is. However, in closing, Doyle puts forward the anarchist alternative to Parliament, what we can really call democracy, and looks at the mechanisms of democratic control developed during the Spanish revolution.

Letter: Back to Looking Inwards - again

The notion that anarchist ideas are so hot and the continuing conundrum as how to make anyone give a monkeys changed up a gear this May as the hordes gathered in Bradford to discuss how to get noticed. Maybe it's too much to ask for a summary and conclusion of the events, discussions and rants which took place - the whole four days were massive, with unknown hundreds turning up - however it's perhaps a little too convenient an excuse to avoid giving a personal view of what happened in Bradford.

The build up to Bradford '98, the pre-event debates, saw a lot of unlikely characters sitting down and discussing what they thought to be their differences, the very notion that these people could be found in a room trying to make sense of it must have shocked some into tragic pathos. This possibly was the most exciting part, but to be fair they all speak, or at least understand the same language. The admission from some anarchists that the claim that all is well in the anarchist is in fact a myth, shows a healthy level of critical analysis - something anarchists are good at-although this reality hasn't hit home for some, and the myth goes on.

London Smoke

With arguably the most anarchist activity and the strongest concentration of self-aware anarchists in the country, London is home to the perpetuation of this myth. With enough numbers and smart-arses in each camp to keep a sectarian war going, the rest of the anarchist groups around the country have to make sense of their disenfranchisement from the ordinary people, whilst attempting to peddle pages of bitter infighting included in anarchist propaganda all of which is based in London. The very fact that in London the two closest aligned libertarian organisations, the ACF and SolFed, seem to spend every opportunity in putting each other to the test, or chastising for some ideological wrong doing, speaks volumes.

Perhaps one benefit of not having as many people in the libertarian communities outside London is being able to step back and examine the real differences and what is actually being said to each other. It may strike people on the periphery that it's just a case of language and attitude as the greatest obstacles.

Into the ghetto

The eighties were blighted by individualism and arguably inconsequential single issue campaigning, sometimes a thousand years form most people's interests. Political correctness was rife, for some people everyday conversation changed forever. Anarchists were found taking up the cause for the likes of veganism and using it as a moral club to beat , and to score points against fellow comrades. The 90s backlash against all that pointless hot air was harsh, though overdue. And although too much could not have been expected of Bradford 98, some of those attitudes were inevitably present. It's not that libertarian ideas are crap, it's the libertarians. If they're not beating each other up with words they're jumping down other people's throats for sounding un-PC. But to be fair, the past ten years have seen interest in class struggle libertarian ideas progress in leaps and bounds, though not at the expense of the ever busy DIY attitude. Recently there have been attempts by class struggle anarchists to claim the direct action eco movement as a prodigal son returning to its roots and embracing class consciousness. Possibly true for some, though an awareness of genus over class seems to be de rigeur for most eco activists. The argument that there have been recent examples of association between everyday people's struggles and eco activists holds very little water. The DIY scene is presented by hopeful anarchists as radical, united and collected, one step away from joining a class struggle federation. Anyone can pass on views on pieces of paper on behalf of the eco movement in just the same way anyone can form opinions about that movement by the people from within it they speak to, and there's some would have you believe the Liverpool dockers were nothing bar manure for trees. Language. (?? -Ed.)

More hot air

Rather than set up any list of people who libertarians, especially class strugglers, should be speaking to, let's just enjoy speaking to each other for a while; smaller miracles like speaking to people outside anarchist circles may one day happen. Go Bradford!

In Solidarity Arthur T.S.Jackson

Comment: While we found some of these points valid, it's not true that all the anarchist press is centred in London. Direct Action is based in Sheffield, Subversion in Manchester, Counter Information in central Scotland, Taking Liberties has recently moved to Sheffield. Similarly, the description of the behaviour of London ACF and SolFed in London leave at least this writer bemused.


1. In 1904, the French psychologist Alfred Binet was asked to devise a way of measuring which children needed special help in French schools. He rejected the view that his test could identify the cause of those special needs, and was particularly scathing of those teachers who used an assessment of irremediable stupidity as an excuse to avoid the “special effort that such students require”. What happened to his test when they were imported into the English speaking world?

Answer Choices:
a: It was used to justify racial discrimination.
b: It was used to allocate resources in a fair and equitable way.
c: It was used to filter applicants to 'The Price is Right'
d: It was used to determine the IQ of people applying to join

2. In what way might the British royal family be descended from elves?

Answer Choices:
a: The queen mother is an elf.
b: The family name was changed from Elvenberg (meaning 'of elves') to Windsor (when being German was not fashionable).
c: They are related to a medieval Italian political faction, the Guelph from which the word 'elf' derived.
d: In the 15th Century, people used to believe that the King had god-given powers, known then as 'elvine'.

3. There are two individuals whom some claim are anarchists who have been commemorated on British stamps. Who are they and for what were they commemorated?

Answer Choices:
a: Mohandas Gandhi and Guy Faulks.
b: William Blake and William Morris.
c: Mohandas Gandhi and William Morris.
d: Guy Faulks and Albert Meltzer.

4. Which fictional character, which far more claim to anarchism, and whose creator is an anarchist, was featured on a British stamp in 1990?

Answer Choices:
a: Dennis the Menace.
b: Minnie the Minx.
c: Rhubarb
d: Midge (The mouse from Mary Mungo and Midge)

5. Why do the grammarians in the anarchist movement get annoyed when younger comrades write about celebrating Mayday?

Answer Choices:
a: They need to get out more.
b: Because it should be marked, not celebrated (until all authority has been overthrown).
c: It should be spelt 'May Day'.
d: It should be spelt - M'aidez!

Correct Answers:
1: a

They were vulgarised as the Stanford-Binet test in the United States, and were used to assign places in society, i.e. blacks at the bottom, followed by recent immigrants from Latin and Slav countries and with white Northern Europeans at the top. Apologists for the tests claimed that someone’s position in society was a “natural” effect of their intelligence, rather than to do with racial and social discrimination. Similar arguments were used in Britain as a justification for selective education.

2: c

Dr Johnson quotes the derivation of the word elf as being from Guelph, a political faction in medieval Italy (and the word goblin from their rivals the Ghibellines). The names of the factions originated in Germany, and the Guelph dynasty reigned in Hanover until 1866. The British royal family is descended from the House of Hanover.

3: c

Mohandas Gandhi was featured on a stamp in 1969 to celebrate the centenary of his birth. While the likes of George Woodcock claim Gandhi was an anarchist, they are really confusing anarchism with pacifism, and at best Gandhi was only a tactical pacifist.
The libertarian communist William Morris explicitly stated he was not an anarchist, even though he worked very closely with anarchists in the Socialist League. He was recognised in 1982 for his contribution to textile design. The Post Office refused to commemorate the centenary of his birth in 1996.

4: a

Dennis the Menace was featured in a book of “smiles” greetings stamps.

5: c

It gives them a chance to show off their pedantry by making the point that May Day is the First of May, celebrated as International Workers Day, while Mayday is the international distress call derived from the French “M’aidez!”, meaning “Help me”.


BlackFlag-214.pdf (12.79 MB)



6 months 2 weeks ago

Submitted by Fozzie on August 12, 2023

PDF added.

A Brief Interview with an IWW organiser, 1998

Black Flag interviews Ray Carr, an IWW delegate at a job shop in Hampshire.

Submitted by martinh on October 1, 2006

We recently heard of that the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) had managed to establish a job shop in Hampshire, and took the opportunity to interview Ray Carr, the IWW delegate involved, recently.

BF: Can you tell us where the IWW has organised?
RC: I work at the Co-op Retail Services in New Milton. There are 30 workers in all, 6 are now IWWs and USDAW (reformist shop workers union) have about the same.

BF: The Co-op traditionally had a special cosy relationship with the USDAW, who survived from the checkoff of union subs from there. Was this a factor?
RC: It was part of the reason, but although USDAW are very into social partnership, the majority of its members these days are in companies like Tesco.

BF: The IWW is explicitly anti-capitalist, was this an issue for the other workers who joined?
RC: The whole issue took off when management proposed to open the store till 10pm. Myself and one USDAW member opposed it and after speaking to the other workers there, there was 100% opposition.
We organised by putting in a collective grievance and holding a meeting. At the meeting it was agreed that nobody would sign new contracts, which we expected they might try to impose on us, and that if any pressure was put on an individual, the others would support them. I took both IWW and USDAW membership forms to the meeting. As things carried on, there was the danger that USDAW (who had done nothing) would take the credit and get members. I explained about the IWW, the major factors in people joining were the low dues, the fact that there are no paid officials and the internal democracy. Five people joined, making a branch of 6 including myself.

BF: What was the response of management?
RC: On the 10pm opening issue we had one meeting with the Human Resources Manager. We told him that the grievance could only be called off by the whole workforce, s it was the meeting of all the workers there who had decided on it. The issue has not been mentioned since.

BF: Do you see more members joining?
RC: I see it as an ongoing campaign, not just in the co-op but in the retail industry generally.

BF: What help could our readers give to support what you're doing?
RC: The best way to help is to promote a different type of unionism as I've outlined above, which is what we all should be doing.

This interview was conducted on a march in 1998 for Black Flag #214.


Copwatching in Chattanooga - Lorenzo Komboa Ervin

Article from Black Flag #214 1998.

Submitted by Fozzie on July 31, 2020

Brothers and Sisters:

Myself and two other members of Black Autonomy-COPWATCH program were arrested in Chattanooga City Hall on Tuesday nite when we took over the meeting as a protest of their disrespect of the desire of the Black community to have this matter of police brutality discussed. The Coalition Against Police Brutality, which includes the NAACP, Operation PUSH, Nation of Islam, and Black Preachers, along with radical forces like Black Autonomy, Concerned Citizens for Justice, Operation Brighter Tomorrow, etc., came to City Hall with a 15-page written proposal for establishment of a Police Control Council for community control of the police. This proposal was based on the old BPP proposal from 1969, rather than seeking a toothless, politically- controlled "review board".

A member of the CAPB had called a week in advance to have us placed on the agenda so that we could give a special presentation. And until the last minute we were assured that this was the case. However, the day of the event when we arrived with a large number of Black community folx, we were curtly told that our request had been denied with no further explanation. Although the NOI had stated in an CAPB organizers meeting that they would take over the meeting, when the time actually came, they got cold feet and said we should "just wait". They punked out completely.

Refusing to accept this insult to the Black community by these corrupt politicians, myself and the BA activists in attendance, then made our move. I went to the speaker's podium, and slammed my fist down, scaring everyone into silence. I demanded that we be heard then, instead of wading through two hours of zoning reports, real estate and business reports, bureaucratic reports and other garbage, while they ignored a room full of Black people. The politicians tried to shout and gavel me down, but then gave up and ran out of the room, when the people rose up and demanded that I be given the right to speak.

To keep the pigs off me while I delivered my speech, I had Damon McGee, Mikail Musa Muhammad, and others stand and become a wall that the cops would have to wade through in order to get me. This worked to perfection, it actually took them twenty minutes before they could even touch me. Finally three of us were arrested, and all during this time, the so-called leadership of the CAPB (including Min. Kevin Muhammad of the NOI) never rose one time to protest our arrest or showed solidarity. These weak, backstabbing punks actually waited until we had been arrested and gave a presentation "disapproving" of our action, and calling for a "private deal" to be negotiated out of the earshot of the people. They then held a private meeting to try to expel us from the group, but realized that the masses overwhelmingly loved what we did, even if the conservative "leadership" didn't, so they backed off. We suspect that they created the "Coalition" as a way of restoring their credibility, and to handcuff radical elements around their middle class program. But we don't need this weak coalition with petty bourgeois elements, we must unite with the people.

We were thrown into jail under atrocious conditions: 31 men in one cell, with no ventilation, one toilet, no food for hours, pushed around by jailers, no medical attention, and no legal rights to an attorney. In fact, Brother Mikail was told that he could not even have a bail bond and would have to stay in jail indefinitely, so yesterday we had a demonstration in front of the jail and the Sheriffs' office, and he was suddenly let go. One thing stuck out in my mind: although the FOI never stood up and defended myself from the cops, or protected our Black sisters, they surrounded me and tried to "chastise" me when I was released from jail. Something is very wrong with this.

We are all charged with "Disrupting a meeting" (6 mos. jail time and $1500 fine), but Bro. Mikail is also chaged with "resisting arrest", although he did no more than the rest of us in standing in the way of the cops. We go to court on next Tuesday, May 26th. We will not compromise with these charges, and will build a political defense to expose police brutality and racism in this town and unite our oppressed people. We are calling ourselves "THE CHATTANOOGA THREE", and will mount an international campaign soon. I will post more later.


Interview: Bob Ritchie, former Liverpool dockworker - Black Flag

At the recent Social Justice March in London, we took the opportunity to talk to Bob Ritchie, former Liverpool dockworker, about the War on the Wharfies and any lessons to be drawn from it.

From Black Flag #214 1998.

Submitted by Fozzie on July 31, 2020

The Liverpool dockers coined the term "the world is our picket line!" and survived as long as you did by tremendous international support. What have you been able to do to help the wharfies?

There were Liverpool dockers out there before the attack on the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA). What's happened there is a carbon copy of what happened to us in 1989, deregulation. The same thing is happening in Japan. The ship owners and stevedoring companies are looking to Australia as part of a move for a global attack on dock industries.

I was in japan to hear Jane Kelsey, a professor from New Zealand, talk about what had happened with trade union laws there. It was if the UK trade union laws had been exported.

Capitalism is global, and there's no reason why workers can't be global. The problem with many Trade Unions is that the bureaucrats at the top aren't prepared to fight. As one of our lads said at a meeting recently, there's a cancer slowly spreading over the world, and the only thing we have to fight with is each other.

What's your opinion of the MUA?

They've been absolutely superb, and even the ITF (International Transport Federation which groups transport unions internationally) in the Pacific Rim have been good, though we couldn't get that kind of response from them for us in Europe. Another thing is that the MUA haven't risen to the intimidation, neither did we. When you see how prepared the police are, like in the recent Reclaim the Streets in Birmingham, you see how one sided a picket line could be.

The MUA has been taken to court over the boycotts happening internationally. What's your opinion of this?

It's nothing to do with the MUA, I would have thought if there was a legal case it would be against he American unions showing solidarity. It's an out and out attack to smash a well organised union by any means.

Could the ITF be attacked?

The ITF should be leading the way. If they had been taken to court here, their head office is in London. They could have moved it to a country not covered by English law. They could move every week if needs be. They need to show more backbone, if you look what happened to the shipping industry, where thousands of jobs were lost.

Do you think it's likely that anti-boycott and secondary action clauses will be put into world trade agreements?

They will possibly use these, we can be sure they'll attack in any way they can. They are out to smash organised workers in any way they can. The whole system is against the working class.

I think the days of mass picketing are over - different ways and directions need to be found, such as what we did in targeting directors homes and trying to shame them. We need to keep control ourselves - all the while our dispute was unofficial we were OK. If it had been official Morris would probably have forced a deal on us within a few weeks. What we need is officials who are elected, not appointed. They should be accountable, and only paid an average wage, it's disgraceful that they're on £40,000 plus a year.

Will the wharfies win?

Yes. It will be very difficult, but they have the will to win and the international support.

What can anyone reading this do?

Anything! The world is our oyster, and if there's a will anything can be done, though at times it may not look that way. Each individual can change things and collectively we can do more.


Interview: IWW Shop Workers - Black Flag

We recently heard of that the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) had managed to establish a job shop in Hampshire, and took the opportunity to interview Ray Carr, the IWW delegate involved, recently.

From Black Flag #214 1998.

Submitted by Fozzie on July 31, 2020

Can you tell us where the IWW has organised?

RC: I work at the Co-op Retail Services in New Milton. There are 30 workers in all, 6 are now IWWs and USDAW (reformist shop workers union) have about the same.

The Co-op traditionally had a special cosy relationship with the USDAW, who survived from the checkoff of union subs from there. Was this a factor?

It was part of the reason, but although USDAW are very into social partnership, the majority of its members these days are in companies like Tesco.

The IWW is explicitly anti-capitalist, was this an issue for the other workers who joined?

The whole issue took off when management proposed to open the store till 10pm. Myself and one USDAW member opposed it and after speaking to the other workers there, there was 100% opposition. We organised by putting in a collective grievance and holding a meeting. At the meeting it was agreed that nobody would sign new contracts, which we expected they might try to impose on us, and that if any pressure was put on an individual, the others would support them. I took both IWW and USDAW membership forms to the meeting. As things carried on, there was the danger that USDAW (who had done nothing) would take the credit and get members. I explained about the IWW, the major factors in people joining were the low dues, the fact that there are no paid officials and the internal democracy. Five people joined, making a branch of 6 including myself.

What was the response of management?

On the 10pm opening issue we had one meeting with the Human Resources Manager. We told him that the grievance could only be called off by the whole workforce, s it was the meeting of all the workers there who had decided on it. The issue has not been mentioned since.

Do you see more members joining?

I see it as an ongoing campaign, not just in the co-op but in the retail industry generally.

What help could our readers give to support what you're doing?

The best way to help is to promote a different type of unionism as I've outlined above, which is what we all should be doing.


An open letter to the IWA from SAC, 1998

An open letter from a member of the Malmö local of the SAC to members of the IWA about their relations as well as anarcho-syndicalism more generally.

Submitted by martinh on October 1, 2006

An open letter to all members of the IWA.

The 1997 Spring issue of Black Flag (BF) carried an ambitious article written under the pseudonym "Peter Principle" (PP) titled "What is anarcho-syndicalism?". One of the main threads running through the piece was the threats to anarcho-syndicalism posed by what he termed anarchist vanguardism on the one hand and libertarian reformism on the other. It also contained an in depth analysis and criticism of the IWA and of certain decisions of it's 20th congress held in Madrid December 1996. The effort to deal critically with the subject deserves much respect and praise. Although BF is not a house journal of the IWA or any of its sections there are obvious close couplings as shown in the text and it is the nearest thing to open in-house criticism, by that I mean the greater house where IWA, like the SAC, is also a dweller. It must be mentioned that syndicalism in Sweden is synonymous with revolutionary syndicalism. There are few who deny that our roots share the same soil as anarchism, which in itself is at face value deceptively simple and difficult to define.

The article also contained judgements and sweeping conclusions regarding the SAC that I felt needed to be clarified. But I also felt that it wasn't enough just to refute misconceptions about the SAC but what was, and still is, needed is an effort to start a dialogue that will hopefully lead to an end of tensions and the beginning of co-operation between all syndicalist organisations, both inside and outside the IWA.

Peter Principle's article can serve as a starting point and I hope this contribution will carry it forward despite my present personal frustration with our collective legacy.

But first some thoughts on black Flag itself. I remember BF as a spitting, irreverent, puerile rag. An anarchist paper "with an attitude", smug, muckraking and a spreader of malicious gossip and lies about the SAC and anybody else who fell foul of it's editors. BF itself was part of the seemingly eternal problem of rampant sectarianism.

Without Borders
I had moved to Sweden early in the 80's, joined the Malmö LS (Lokala Samorganisation) of SAC and, years later, met with two members of BF at the SAC's 1990 international meeting "Without Borders" in Stockholm. I had recently become more involved in international questions and together with comrades in the Southern District of SAC had started our own international committee. The legacy of SAC-IWA problems was something we saw as crucial to resolve if syndicalism was to grow internationally. One of the BF observers (who was also an active member in DAM) was invited to the podium. What he had to say had a subtle but significant effect on many of us in the SAC, not least those of us from the south. He started by offering an apology, not for the shit that BF used to spread but for the fact that he had come loaded with prejudice and preconceptions that he sought to verify. His apology was met with honest applause and he confessed if not to a change of attitude but at least to a nuanced picture of the SAC. In light of the concern we had for the future of international syndicalism we felt it was a quiet but non the less significant change that presented itself. Afterwards in the coffee-break I fell into conversation with an elderly Englishman who also started to apologise for having said things that he now regretted. Bewildered I had to ask him who he was, Albert Meltzer was the reply and the penny dropped. Here he was, the man behind the poisoned pen. Our conversation finished with him promising to set the record straight in the next issue of BF. This I felt was concrete progress and that now there was some hope of moving international relations forward. Nothing ever came of it though as BF's next issue came three years later. I suppose though Albert did make some amends in his autobiography where he has favourable things to say about us.

A door opens....and closes
Another opportunity to bridge the gap was when the SAC received a letter from Pepe Jiminez, the IWA secretary, early in 1994. Here, in my opinion, the SAC fumbled the ball. The letter came to SAC's international committee asking them to explain the form of SAC's involvement with the unemployment benefit scheme, if we employed "officials" and our view of the background when SAC and IWA parted ways in the 50's.

The committee was puzzled and even suspicious as they had answered time and time again those same questions from the Spanish camp and wondered if it was yet another stage of a slander campaign. I felt more inclined to interpret his letter as an effort to raise the (IWA's) discussion on the SAC to a factual and objective level and that this offered an opportunity to move things forward. I had been elected as International secretary at our 1994 congress and by the time I, as international secretary, answered his letter and signalled our wish to bridge the gap the moment had passed. Pepe was no longer in the arena and the new people were rabid anti-SAC. (Although I never received an acknowledgement of my reply some individuals in the SF later referred to it, terming it "inadequate", but then nothing short of sackcloth and ashes would do for some).

During my work as international secretary in the SAC (late summer 94 to summer 98) I have written to counteract some of the wildest possible allegations published the CNT paper, some so absurd that I was even embarrassed on their behalf. Not one of my letters was ever even acknowledged let alone published. A formal greeting to the IWA Madrid congress was never mentioned, this contained a clear wish that the IWA congress should drop the prohibition against contact with the SAC and that we were open to deal with any and all issues of contention with any appointed body of the IWA congress. I strongly suspect the CNT and the IWA have a special wastepaper basket with our logo on it.

As I understand it though the IWA congress decided to appoint a commission to "investigate" the SAC. Well no matter what the wording it would offer an opportunity to create some forum for dialogue. An invitation to the SAC's congress (June 1998) offered the chance to come and see us at work, talk to SAC activists and get a first hand impression but again it seems that this is not a high priority.

Same old attitude?
Peter Principle tones down at least the former "in you face" style that used to be the hallmark of the BF but the stripes are hard to wash out all he same.

While he doesn't define "libertarian reformism" in the beginning of the article he later states and I quote "....the SAC now firmly established as a reformist union dispensing welfare to workers of behalf of the state in the Swedish mould". He further states that"... SAC's pluralist political policy leads it to seek international relations with any union or political group who will deal with it and plead innocence when it causes offence". Such sweeping statements insinuates a refined and fiendish nature.

PP "strongly suspects" that if the SAC had offered assistance to only one side in the Spanish conflict i.e. those who eventually retained the initials CNT then "the original dispute would have been regarded as an irrelevance". This flatters neither the SAC or the CNT, as if the real problems can be resolved by the buying and selling of favours and graces. The problems are at bottom differences in ideological and applied syndicalist praxis and not a question of who is friends with who.

The SAC's position on the split in Spain is one of neutrality, we hold that they both should join together. In the present bitter circumstances this seems unlikely and from a quick perusal of "cnt" and "rojo y negro" it is the former that acts as the mud-slinger, based on simple observation.

When Franco left the scene and literally hundreds of thousands of potential members of CNT rallied in Barcelona the SAC was one of the first to take the entire contents of its Spanish solidarity fund down to Spain to aid in the reconstruction of the union, a fact conveniently forgotten.

When after the de-facto split we were approached for a loan to aid organisation in the workplace by the "renewers" it was granted after much discussion in the SAC. One of the provisos being that a loan would also be made available to the other group if the need arose. It didn't change our policy of neutrality. I will admit that it muddied the waters as PP states, no less than the actions of others in this whole sad story. PP's labelling CNT-R as the "the phoney, reformist organisation is equally ludicrous as the definition as the other group as being entirely "Leninists"

If you get close to dog-fight you invariably get bitten and there are few who haven't been scarred by these events.

The Spanish conflict casts it's shadow on syndicalism internationally as PP rightly points out but the negative effect is greatest on the domestic front. The split in the syndicalist movement into CGT-CNT followed by further breakaways and exclusions have caused tens upon tens of thousands of potential members to shun the arena altogether. The growth of the CGT must be ascribed to their pragmatism and organisation and not superciliously written off as "reformism and class collaboration". The diminishing numbers and shrinking workplace presence of the CNT cannot be continually blamed upon enemies, saboteurs, the police or alleged international conspiracies instigated by the SAC. Of course the Spanish establishment has no wish to see a strong syndicalist organisation in it's midst and it would be naive to ignore it's capacity and willingness to upset its' efforts to re-consolidate. But the CNT's/IWA's degree of fear, conspiracy theorising and what can only be termed as outright paranoia is out of all reasonable proportion and is in itself the greatest hindrance to organisational development.

Beep and Drive
It must be remembered that one of the bones of contention between the IWA and the SAC in the 50's was the ban on tactical freedom which the SAC did not accept and still holds to be an important element in any true con-federal agreement. The system of works councils are unknown here in Sweden (the reformist unions partake in compromising bodies though) and the SAC lacks a coherent analysis of this growing European phenomena. The Swedish establishment has it's own recipe to include and disarm or exclude and demonise militant workers. To counteract rank and file militancy in the 70's and the diminishing control the reformist unions had over it's membership new labour legislation was introduced, the classical bone to the hungry dog trick. The bosses were now obliged to inform before introducing major changes and hiring and firing procedures were regulated granting more job security to waged workers. The SAC were not alone in calling this the Beep and Drive legislation. Previously the bosses just drove over you now they had to beep the horn first. The introduction of legislation covering labour relations caused a shift in the role and work of the SAC officials, the so called ombudsmen, away from studies, agitation etc. to concentrate more on giving legal expertise.

Anyway what I am getting at is that the SAC by using negotiations and legal paragraphs to push for better wages, conditions can hardly be accused of class collaboration. It is an accusation that should be reserved for just class collaboration and not as a fancy slogan to sling around willy-nilly. Relying on legislation is often the only alternative when you are a single syndicalist on a work-place. Furthermore because of our numerical weakness and the lack of our own structures for mutual aid, the state often offers some defence against the arbitrariness of the bosses, this is for the whole of class. This is not said as a defence for the existence of the state apparatus, it remains the evil twin of capitalism. The preoccupation in some IWA circles of classical anarchist anti-state actions clouds the fact that it is capitalism at the workplace we as syndicalists have chosen first and foremost to combat. The abolition of the State as we know it will come about subsequently as we build our own institutions to distribute wealth and welfare

Goals and tactics, offence and defence
Quite simply is it not so that if we are numerically strong, well organised and motivated we can gain ground with or without legislation, based on our own strength. When we are weaker we are forced into defensive manoeuvres that are covered by a different set of rules.

The SAC has an ultimate revolutionary goal, to change society through the workers take-over of the means of production. Or as it reads in our declaration of principles the "SAC, is a syndicalist workers movement whose goal is the realisation of libertarian socialism in which the means of production are the property of all, and are administered by the workers, thereby creating the conditions for a classless society". Noble, modest but clearly revolutionary.

We do not reject reforms as such and this stance cannot be construed so as to define the SAC as inherently reformist as PP argues. Rather we are inherently revolutionary but on the defensive. As soon as SAC sections establish themselves on a workplace they have constantly shown a degree of militancy and, even more important, a flair for imaginative combative actions, that often attract more timid work-mates to their ranks. I also challenge any section of the IWA to claim that they have a higher degree of democratic culture and transparency than the SAC, no matter what their size. All employees and elected functionaries enjoy the same wages and their roles and responsibilities are clearly mandated and all are answerable to the congress. We don't have any privileged garnishing, golden handshakes or informal hierarchies. In fact a mention of SAC activity in a job application is definitely no advantage. That said the SAC is not a perfect organisation, much always needs to be done, that is part and parcel of the project. This sounds unnecessarily self-righteous but is not meant as such, its just an ill concealed pride in an organisation that the world would be a poorer place if it didn't exist.

The growth from small propaganda groups to gaining a foothold in the workplace is the most important and long-awaited event for IWA sections in modern times. It is something to be welcomed. Glitches and teething problems need to be nurtured and helped along. The behaviour of the IWA regarding the CNT-F and USI-It. is unfathomable. PP would agree that the IWA is it's own worst enemy pure and simple. An internal atmosphere of fear that can only be called a form of McCarthyism is rampant and destroying the democratic processes and inner culture that is a prerequisite for any solidarity organisation. It is the greatest tragedy since the crushing of syndicalism by the Fascists. It is vital that the IWA sets its house in order and joins the upswing for revolutionary syndicalism where it is sorely needed and not locked up in some ivory tower.

The SAC itself has it's own set of problems, a passive membership or rather members that choose to be active in other ways other places in society, daily union chores that are far from the romantic utopia we all long for. Mauled by or excluded from the mainstream press and dogged by a slowly diminishing membership. This in itself increases the burdens on those who active.

Some relevant points
The terrain between the SAC and the IWA is littered with twisted theories that prevent us from coming to grasp with the real problems facing revolutionary syndicalism in a changing world.

Let me try and make clear SAC's position regarding the relationship to the IWA.

Firstly we do not seek to form a new International. This is reaffirmed time and time again at our congresses.

Secondly, the SAC does not lie still but actively seek co-operation with libertarian socialist, direct democratic or otherwise fighting trade unions which work independently of political parties, nothing at all odd in this, at best we serve a good example and this only strengthens syndicalism. We are especially concerned with having good relations with ideologically related organisations. There is no conspiracy behind this wish but a firm belief that if revolutionary syndicalism is to have a future we must all learn to deal with our problems and differences in an open and mature fashion. This is a precondition for all co-operation.

The SAC does not propose itself to be the perfect workers organisation and we continually seek to improve the democratic structure so that it might serve as a tool in the shaping of a future libertarian socialist society. We do not propose to dictate our way upon others nor do we engage in defaming our libertarian sister organisations.

There is the palpable risk that sooner or later the continued false allegations, like a self-fulfilling prophesy, will force the SAC membership to write off the IWA further paralysing the future of syndicalism. let us tackle the points at issue in an open fashion.

The vacuum between the IWA and the SAC serves as a hot bed for malicious rumours. This vacuum is our common and at present greatest enemy. It prevents dialogue and the mutual enrichment of all.

We all have a responsibility as individuals, as groups and as organisations, to actively work for some kind of normalisation in communications that will allow us to eliminate false conflicts and allow us to clearly define and deal with what just might be real differences.

There is no one true path, no single formula, dogma or model which limits our struggle for emancipation. The very idea of practical and direct action includes the possibility of wrong steps. The dynamism and pragmatism of revolutionary syndicalism leads to the possibility of learning from our mistakes and of course from our successes. Let us create a forum for dialogue and eliminate malicious rumours. Let us make a serious effort to resolve our more real and difficult problems and show that both we can meet the challenge and shake this stone from our backs and get on with the work of changing society. For this end I am always ready.

Yours in solidarity

Kieran Casey

member of Malmö LS of SAC
and formerly SAC's international secretary (1994-1998)

C/o Malmö LS, Box 175 75, 200 10 Malmö, Sweden.
Fax: +46-40- 30 61 76. e-mail: [email protected]


Running the risk of finishing on a sourer note it but would be less than honest of me to omit the following. I have noticed new allegations directed against the SAC from the IWA secretariat itself, not, as before, from some influential individual. The accusations concern a conference on something called municipal libertarianism (or Libertarian municipalism?) in Portugal. I have never heard of the term nor is the SAC involved in this initiative. The SAC has no position, neither positive nor negative on this matter. Why the IWA secretariat writes as it does in an accusatory fashion is beyond me. I leave the matter in your, the readers, hands. KC



3 years 6 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by syndicalist on August 9, 2020

I recall the Kieran Casey letter, some of the IWA discussions and so forth. This whole discussion of letter and intentions went over like a lead weight

Squatting in Barcelona - Black Flag

Article from Black Flag #214 1998.

Submitted by Fozzie on July 31, 2020

In one week, there were two evictions of casas okupatas in Sants, a working class Catalan speaking area where we have one of our largest CSOs (Centro Social Okupado), "L'Hamsa" and where we hold concerts of 1000 to 1500 people. One was evicted in the morning without prior warning, 8 arrested. In the evening there was the usual demo of about 200. Along the route 8 meat wagons suddenly turned up with riot cops in them who immediately blocked the road. The demonstrators decided to veer off and go down a smaller road heading for the evicted squat. Once there, they were confronted by a line of cops dressed up as hard-core squatters. These cops all took out their guns about 10-12 in all and tried to provoke a (shooting) incident. The okupas pulled back cautiously and later that night the large green paladin bins were set light to and the ETT offices were attacked. (ETT is Empresas de Trabajo Temporal, 6 month contracts with shit wages, just being introduced in Spain for the first time) The response of the cops was to comb the area looking for anyone resembling a squatter. The area of Sants was taken over in a military style occupation, anyone they met was arrested and given a good going over once in the copshop. Obviously people who had nothing to do with this were "taken in". One guy hid under a car for an hour and a half not daring to move. In all, five have been taken in and charged.

The following day another squat, where people live, was also evicted without warning. This time nobody was inside. The same day the eviction order arrived for "L'Hamsa". For a month now there's another ending on "La Vakeria". This seems to indicate that the authorities have decided on repression as the means to put an end to the okupas. Attacking two of our major social centres in the same week, and attacking three squats in the same area is indicative if this. The latest thing, of dressing up as okupas and pulling guns is a new and very alarming development. Catalonia is not the Basque Country, where there is a similar situation to Northern Ireland. Guns are rife there, but not in peaceful tourist-land Barcelona. Hence people are very concerned about this change of tactics and the people in Sants are tense and incensed at the occupation of their neighbourhood.

Subsequently, there were three big concerts : in "L'Hamsa", a place near "La Vakeria" and in "El Palomar" (another CSO similar to L'Hamsa). The concert at L'Hamsa was free and more than a thousand people turned up. It was held to calm the nerves of the people there, as well as creating publicity. The day after we read that the Generalitat (Catalan Autonomous govt) is discussing a proposal to enter into dialogue and negotiate with the okupas. This ,as you can imagine was received with large doses of cynicism by the squatters. Obviously a face saving motion; attack the okupas physically while making public statements to the contrary. It seems to me like the typical cynical manipulations of cops and villains (politicos)!

The day after a demo was planned outside the law courts in L'Hospitalet where La Vakeria is, which went off without a hitch. About a thousand people turned up despite rain.

The following day another demo in the Ramblas attracted several thousand.

The next week the alleged report of the Generalitat appeared in "La Vanguardia" using photos taken inside L'Hamsa. It's tone was anti-okupa, saying their ideas were good but their methods were wrong, typical divide and rule stuff. Two days later, after everything had calmed down a bit, there was even a rumour that the judge on the L'Hamsa case had withdrawn or retired.

However, that Tuesday La Vakeria was suddenly evicted at 7am with 22 people inside, chained to different parts of the building, offering "passive resistance". Judges have already ruled (twice) in Catalonia, that a peaceful eviction (i.e. not fighting the cops) is not an illegal occupation and have acquitted people a couple of times so tactically this is a good thing to do.

As soon as the people were out and taken off to the local copshop, the bulldozer went in and what is left of a beautiful 18th century Catalan macia (country house) is nothing but a memory of 6 years of occupation and a lot of rubble.

So, La Vakeria went, and as L'Hamsa was still under threat another demo was called for the following day. People turned up in the Plaça de Sants and went to "La Morada", the house evicted the day before at the same time as La Vakeria. There were 1000 people who then decided to walk to L'Hamsa, which is right behind the Sants copshop. There was serious rioting, cops at one end of the main road and okupas at the other. The road is straight for about a mile with four lanes, which made it easy for the cops to use their usual tactic of going in groups of five with one cop at the back firing rubber bullets at people. Many of the cops had been bussed in from other parts of Spain and didn't know the terrain and had no experience of confronting the okupas, who usually stand their ground and shower the cops with bottles taken from the large green recycling containers, which are everywhere, and bricks from the sacks of rubble from the constant construction work taking place everywhere. Ironically, it's the construction companies which supply the okupas with the ammo they need to take on the cops with by constantly doing up properties to rent out at prices no one can afford to pay. This market tactic of controlling house prices and is the equivalent of hoarding grain, a tactic constantly denounced by the okupas as speculation.

When the demo got close to the copshop, it stopped, as usual to maintain a safe distance from the cops. At that precise moment plain clothes cops on the demo, who were at the front of it and at the back, took out "self-defence spray" and started spraying people in their faces. These sprays are illegal in Spain, so the cops don't even respect the laws they are supposed to enforce. It also appears that the whole thing was a set up. Normally demos go direct from central Barcelona to L'Hamsa, but because of the eviction of the house in Sants, it was predictable that they would have to go down Creu Coberta, the main road, past the copshop.

People at the back also knew that there was a line of plain clothes cops behind them, making it impossible for people to leave without getting nabbed, with the attendant tortures and beatings which go with being arrested. Also, the side streets of Creu Coberta are narrow, and there were more plain clothes cops hiding in their doorways. One squatter from Melbourne was caught in this way. He decided to get out of the area and ran down a side street where a plain clothes cop jumped from a doorway and sprayed him in the face. Not being able to see anything he grabbed on to someone else and they carried on running with cops in pursuit right behind them. Realising that the cops were getting close he let go of the other person to let them escape. He carried on running and later bumped into a woman and ran into a bar. The bar owner and customers tried to stop the cops from taking him off, a brave thing to do in the circumstances, but in vain, nonetheless.

In all 17 were arrested and taken to the main copshop in the Via Layetana which the squatters had attacked ferociously the last time there was a major confrontation, the day of the eviction of the squatted cinema "La Princesa". Once there they had to run the gauntlet between the pigs between the vans where nothing could be seen. Once inside the eldest of those nicked and two women were beaten up very badly. Menstruating women were not allowed to change their tampons initially, and when they went to the toilets to do so were accompanied by male pigs, which is contrary to regulations and illegal.

The prisoners saw cops taking lines of cocaine continually to keep them hyped up and could see the pleasure in their faces when they were hitting people.

All the next day friends and relatives of those arrested tried to see their loved ones, but only for a few minutes and had to wait all day to do it as the cops wouldn't say when. Charges varied, but they wanted to deport the Aussie. On his charge sheet it said arrested for "social disturbances and causing damages". For this, they deport people, but as Spain is now part of the EU this means deportation and exclusion from any member country for 5 years. Another dirty tactic.

The Friday, just before 10am the okupas went tot he law courts to support those "kidnapped" by the cops, as is the custom. During the morning more and more were arriving until there were a hundred or so, on the other side of the road from the cops. By mid morning the majority of the meat wagons went off as it was clear that nothing was going to happen. Those arrested were making declarations to the judge and people hung around outside waiting to see if they were going to be released or not. After 1pm one of our lawyers came out to tell us of the state of play. The charges for each one was read out and they would all be released soon. This news made us all a bit happier and gave a boost to our enthusiasm. As it was lunch time the judges, lawyers and clerks were leaving and were met with clapping and laughter from the squatters. This made some laugh but intimidated others, obviously not used to popular justice and having their power questioned, or maybe because of their guilty consciences for what they had just done and do every day - send human beings to hell-holes for not being rich, where all suffer and some die. The rich have their cases quashed - as happens frequently here in Spain - or their case is thrown out of court because the "New Civil Code" now does not consider some things as a crime. This particularly angers the okupas as the new code makes occupying a building a criminal rather than civil offence, as it was before. It is also retrospective, which mean that for those who were squatting before March 1996 are now criminals. Under the Spanish constitution it deliberately prohibits "retroactive legislation" as being unconstitutional! During the defence of "La Princesa" part of the legal defence was based on this. At first the judge dealing with the case accepted the argument and shelved the case until the constitutional court in Madrid made a pronouncement.

However, after the summer went by the judge "suddenly" changed his mind and stated that the present law was the law and therefore the okupas had to go. He'd obviously had his orders. However, for cases of pederasty the penalties have been reduced, and in one important case in Valencia the accused, who were expecting to be sent down for a very long time, have been released for exactly this. The judge kicked the case out of court. One law for sexual offences and another for property offences. Those arrested were released one by one and greeted by loud cheering and clapping. After greeting the judges etc., the squatters crossed the road en masse and okupied the space right outside the garage type entrance where the prisoners came out from, shouting slogans like "Llibertat detingudes" (Catalan for "Free the arrested") and the pigs had to get out to show their authority. After a lot of singing and shouting and taunting the police there was a moment of tension when the chief pig tried to quieten down the okupas and get them to move back across the road, something they aren't used to doing. Retreat is not in their vocabulary, especially when it comes from a pig. The okupas are total democrats, making decisions in asembleas, meetings open to everyone, and do not like "orders". They know how the cops act with eviction orders, brutally beating people and even strangling them. There was a stand-off and what broke it was that at exactly at that moment more prisoners came out. So everyone ignored the cops and started cheering. This calmed the situation and the chief pig could have eased off, but then being reasonable isn't in their vocabulary.

The cop tried again to get people to move back, was ignored, so the helmets went on and the truncheons came out. Some of the cops just waded in, even breaking the mirror on their van, and the rest followed suit. One of the two TV crews started filming, the other intentionally did nothing. The okupas caught them out and got them to film as well. As the okupas were pushed back across the road some couldn't get up the steps leading to the Promenade above, as part of it was blocked by cops. Then the most brutal attack occurred, many of those who couldn't get up there fell over and two cops started laying into them with a sadistic ferocity.

Even then the cops didn't let up. The squatters regrouped and shouted "Basta Ya!" (That's enough) holding their hands up in the air like the anti-ETA demonstrators, to show that they are non-violent, against violence and against terrorists. But even doing this didn't stop the cops laying into people. They were all lined up in riot gear chomping at the bit to lay into the okupas. The father of one of the squatters, who had just been released, was screaming abuse at the cops, as he had been one of those who had fallen over and was in a lot pain. His daughter tried calming him down along with others. An unconscious girl was laid out in the grass in the middle of the Passeig (Promenade) well out of reach of the cops.

Another friend came up to me and we hugged one another to give each other support and show our solidarity. She had been hit really hard on her shoulder with a truncheon. There was blood on her hand, which she explained was form another friend who had had her head split open by the cops. Later when I saw this on TV I saw the censored version where a group of friends screamed wildly at the cops; one of them had blood pouring down her neck from the head wound; the others touching her head, showed their bloody hands to the police, who were just arrogantly ignoring them.

As if all this wasn't enough, when the ambulances arrived the cops started attacking the injured who wanted to go to hospital. They also refused to let many of the injured (30 in all) anywhere near the ambulances, let alone get in them, saying they weren't injured enough. Only two were allowed to go to hospital.

People regrouped to talk about what to do. The asemblea drew up a list of the injured with all relevant personal details on it, which is necessary to file a complaint against the cops. Others who were more hurt grouped together to go off to the hospital, they needed official proof from a doctor to sustain their complaints, as well as to treat their wounds. Not having transport we all walked off.

AT the hospital we were well treated, in every sense of the word. Nobody made waves about us, or about legal problems over medical insurance or being a foreigner. Gradually we all moved to the waiting room which we okupied, sitting on chairs, talking, some sleeping and passing around snacks and water. These attitudes of sharing and doing what we want surprised those in the hospital, both workers and patients. The atmosphere was good despite the fact that we were breaking all the normal rules of the hospital. Even the porters and security guards were friendly to us. This was bigger and better publicity for us than the "mass media of disinformation" who only gave the cops version. One comic moment was when an elderly woman with a crutch came into the waiting room. We gave up a seat for her, re-okupying floor space and that's when she asked what we were doing there. "The police have attacked us", to which she said "this is just like the okupas", to which the other burst out laughing. She explained that she live near La Princesa (the evicted cinema which was attacked by 200 riot cops and a helicopter in a battle lasting three and a half hours) and she described what she saw that day. After being seen by the doctors, people started leaving in groups. At the main entrance there was a group of squatters protecting the entrance, that is to say making sure that no more cops turned up to kidnap people. After La Princesa was evicted, one okupa was taken off to hospital, but as the ambulance was driven by cops he didn't get there, instead going to the main copshop. On every okupa demo there's always an ambulance wanting to come through, which we always let through, but what a coincidence.

People drifted off gradually but this was far from being the end of it. Those from La Vakeria (an old 18th century dairy) went straight to the town hall meeting in their area, L'Hospitalet. Those responsible for the eviction and demolition and subsequent police brutality were the mayor and politicians of L'Hospitalet. At the meeting the okupas claimed La Vakeria as being legitimately theirs, because "we have constructed it physically and intellectually".

Part of their communiqué which they read out was shown on one local TV channel. So people went off to their squats to protect them and continue their lives in as normal a way as possible, and to go to the incessant demos being called., two for that Friday night, and another for the following morning under the slogan "La Vakeria sigue, sigue, la lucha sigue sigue" (The Dairy keeps on keeps on, the struggle keeps on keeps on). We re-okupy, so it's a change of scene or place, but as the okupas say "You can evict our houses but you can't evict our ideas".

The same day as the unwarranted and cowardly attack on the squatter outside the courts, there was a demo against the temporary work agencies (ETTs). According to official figures most people leave these agencies' jobs after one month. This is probably because people are so hard up that 45000 pesetas a month (£90)seems better than nothing. So people accept the work and after one month drop it immediately realising that it isn't worth doing for the pittance they give and call a wage. It's not even subsistence wages. Rents in Spain are 30000 per month minimum, but normally are about 40-50,000, so people give up their time to have enough to pay the rent but nothing else. Eating, transport, going out, presents or even such basic things as clothes and household goods just don't come into it. The demo was called in Cornella, a working class area where there are lots of factories, most notably multinationals, e.g. Siemens, and has a lot of people in trade unions, albeit reformist ones like the Comisiones Obreras or UGT who always make pacts with the government, going blatantly against their own affiliates interests. They get paid a rate, per head, for every affiliate, given to them by the central govt, a pay off if ever there was one.

A few years back when the French government was attempting to introduce short term contracts, the youngsters at school from 16-19 in one of the Colleges/schools in Cornella had a banner hanging outside the school for ages saying that the French through constant rioting had succeeded in obtaining the withdrawal of this scheme. Therefore, they in Cornella should be doing the same. Just before last Christmas, the people from the same schools decided to call some demos against these agencies, the ETTs. It's normal practice on many demos in Spain top push the large green paladin bins into the middle of the road, take out useful material to lob at the cops and then set fire to them. On that occasion something of that sort happened, as well as attacking the ETT offices. As this went on for a while, one young lad was picked out by the cops, arrested and tortured and then released after a couple of days. He was rearrested and a confession was extracted which he signed naming himself and his mates as being those who had done this. Not being able to live with himself he committed suicide. A demo was called and a thousand people turned up, and it was attacked by the police with plain clothes cops looking to arrest people just like they had with the other guy.

As a reaction, the youngsters in Cornella called a general strike for one day in protest. AS there was quite a lot of publicity the cops did not attack them (then!). Not long after a hit squad went into the ETT office and set it alight with petrol and mollies, in plain daylight, with the office workers being told to leave. This made publicity; so when people saw posters for a demo in Cornella the same week s the full scale attack against the okupas, nobody had any doubts about the outcome. About 600 people assembled in the middle of Cornella and decided to march to another place where they would read out a communiqué. Once there the riot cops attacked them before they had time to read out anything. The major danger came from the 50 plain clothes cops inside the demo and about 6 people were arrested. They were taken off to a nearby building where they were placed in separate rooms. Shortly afterwards a group of 5 to 6 riot cops came in to give them a good working over. In the corner of the room the pigs already had the molotovs, rocket launchers, etc. to back up their charges against the accused. For this they could get sent down for a couple of years apiece. The propaganda work had already been carried out by the mass media saying that the okupas had called the demo, and this two days after the Sants demo where 17 were arrested for rioting, etc. The judges normally send down anyone brought before them by the cops, dismissing contradictory evidence saying they prefer to believe the word of a police officer. This had happened after La Princesa to an American who was teaching English in a private language school until 10pm, but the cops claimed had been rioting at 8.30-9pm. The judge rejected his underground ticket with date and time on it as evidence. Spain has progressed from Fascist dictatorship to banana republic.

The fly in the ointment for the authorities is that several of those arrested are CNT members. This is bad (for them) for two reasons. Firstly that there is a CNT and anarchist black out of information, except historical things, 1936 and all that. The CNT is now "historical", not exiting today and not having any relevance to people, places, events and life today. That's according to them! Secondly, the CNT is a legally recognised organisation, and so has a right to reply to anything published against it or its members by anyone.

When the press published the cops version, as always, the CNT handed over a personally signed communiqué giving its version of events to each newspaper. Some of them published it, albeit reduced, which gives publicity to the CNT and anarchist movement, as well as officially denying the cops version and therefore the version published by the press as well, showing them up as the lying shits they are.

The week after this onslaught against the okupas (and remember the okupas say "L*s okup*s somos tod*s, pero faltan l*s pres*s" - the okupas are all of us, but the prisoners are missing, i.e. not here with us) there was ten days of events organised by the squatters about he arrested and talking about what had happened. These took place from one end of Barcelona to the other, including the suburbs, and brings together all the cases of repression taking place around the city. The prisoners are 49 from La Princesa, 16 from the riot attacking the main copshop that same day; 17 from the Sants demo including the Aussie compañero who faces deportation from Europe for 5 years; 6 from the Cornella demo.

For more details and to support those arrested contact CNT, c/ Joaquim Costa 34, Barcelona Tel/fax 93 318 88 34


Interview: Adil Rahman of Newham Monitoring Project - Black Flag

NMP banner
NMP banner

Newham Monitoring Project has been fighting racial harassment and police harassment in East London for 18 years - consistently running an emergency advice line, offering practical support to individuals and running campaigns. NMP has always been a grassroots community organisation and funding has come and gone. The withdrawal of funding and loss of its office more than a year ago had lead to rumours of its demise but Black Flag found NMP still going strong when we interviewed Adil Rahman.

From Black Flag #214 1998

Submitted by Fozzie on July 31, 2020

BF: Tell us how NMP started

NMP: NMP was set up 18 yrs ago in 1980 following the murder of Akhtar Ali Baig - a young Asian lad. He was walking out of East Ham tube on his way home from college, where a group of skinheads had a £5 bet on who could kill the first "paki." Akhtar was the first black person they saw and they actually fought to get across the road - you know they wanted to win the bet - it was broad daylight - and they stabbed him through the heart for a £5 bet.

That was really the straw that broke the donkey's back - East London was the centre of the NF's programme and there was a lot of fascist activity. There had been many other cases - in 1978 the Viet brothers who had been working on their car outside their home were attacked by a group of fascists armed with iron bars and other weapons. The three brothers defended themselves while another brother inside the house called the police for help. The police came - allowed all the fascists to go, arrested all the brothers and charged them with affray! The charges were very serious and the brothers were imprisoned for between 3 and 25 years. This scenario of unprovoked attacks by fascists resulting in the arrest of the victims was a daily reality.

The other side of the coin to all this fascist activity was the police racism. There were 2 kinds of responses from the police to call outs from black people reporting attacks. You could get a brick through the window and wait four hours for the police to turn up - or they'd turn up immediately, allow the perpetrators to go and arrest the victims. (Today they may have learned the language of multi-culturalism but little has actually changed.)

So the community had had enough - the community leaders, the temples, churches and mosques got together and said look this can't go on - the response of the statutory agencies had been totally inadequate and we needed to do something ourselves. Racist and police attacks needed monitoring 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year and so the NMP was formed. It is very important to remember how NMP got started and why 18 years on we are still active and supported - NMP came from community politics - from the bottom up and not from the top down.

Following NMP's formation in 1980 there was the case of the Newham 7 which drew a real focus to Newham. A group of racists had been attacking kids at a local school - it had been going on for 4 months - the police had been informed, the school had been informed, the council had been informed - and nothing had been done about it. So 7 young men got together and said well if no-one else is going to do anything we will make sure you get home safely. They got to the school to find a group of men there - who turned out to be police officers. The fascists arrived, were allowed to go and all 7 of the lads were arrested.

From this came the phrase 'Self Defence is No Offence.' We believe the community has a right to organise if no-one is going to protect them. There is a very distinct difference between vigilantism and 'self defence no offence' where you have been forced to say enough is enough - even one attack is too many - but here it was happening day in day out.

The case showed police racism on one side and local racism on the other side of the coin and NMP began to run the first emergency service in England offering immediate practical support and advice to people suffering from police and racial harassment.

We eventually got funding from the council but now have lost it again which, for a lot of people at the beginning, seemed a disaster but now its turned out a lot better. NMP only accepted funding on the understanding that it would continue be a political organisation - and how can you be a pressure group when you've got constraints? We always said we'd refuse funding if it came with constraints and we stepped on the council's toes and the police's toes one too many times which meant we were doing our job - but also meant that the council wouldn't fund us. It's over a year now since this happened and the office was burned down. We now have another office in Stratford and are going strong - the racism from the police and racism on the streets hasn't gone away and nor have we. We have less resources than before - but we're still there doing cases and campaigns. One of the things we are doing is helping to run the Stephen Lawrence campaign together with his family and the Southall Monitoring Group.

Is NMP now all run by volunteers again?

Yes purely by volunteers which again shows the basis we have in the community. This is the difference between NMP and a lot of other organisations and why we've survived so long. We said look we're not going to parachute in, stay a couple of weeks, get a bit of media attention and then go and let the black community face the backlash. We've maintained that we would be there 24 hours, 7 days a week whatever happened.

Did you have to build up the trust from the community or was it always there from the beginning because the people who started NMP were people who lived in Newham?

I think the reason why the community got so involved in NMP was firstly that racism was such a big issue and we got things done. NMP's work forced Newham Council to be the first council in the country to adopt a racial harassment policy - unfortunately now the policy simply acts as a buffer and has little effect - black people now get moved out and the racists stay.

A lot of people came to NMP after they'd hit brick walls everywhere else - they'd go to the council and say what was happening and nothing would be done, the same with the police and eventually they'd arrive at NMP. We not only provided practical advice but also said - together we will do something, we will change things. That's why we have such firm roots in the community - what we say is what we do. We try to channel people's anger as a community to achieve change.

For example in Second Avenue there were fascists terrorising a whole community - NMP put the black families in touch with each other - because after all they are there day in day out and if they link up to become a strong unit you know that not only will you be able to solve the problem for that day but you can also solve it for future - that's why community politics is at the core of every thing we do.

NMP have always maintained that the problem isn't a lack of laws - there's a thousand and one laws against racial harassment - but the problem is the implementation - its no use having hundreds of laws if the first one isn't put into practice. Newham councils racial harassment policy is perfect on paper but when it comes to putting it into practice and putting their money where their mouth is you realise that, to them, its just a piece of paper in a drawer and it's just not good enough. Its weird looking back 18 years ago to remember fascists openly walking the streets. It's so different now; now the police are the main problem. A year and a half ago 6 people died in police custody - Ibrahim Hussain died in the police yard at Forest Gate police station, handcuffed on the floor surrounded by 6 police officers and then sprayed with CS gas - you can't talk anymore about one rotten apple in a barrel - your talking about a police force that is rotten to the core. NMP have dealt with hundreds of police harassment cases over the years and not one police officer has ever been sacked for racial harassment. One Asian man was arrested and he had a tape recorder on him - he taped the arrest. The two officers from Forest Gate police station racially abused him and you could even hear them slap him on the tape - they threatened to take him around the corner and shoot him - gave him the whole works. We put in a police complaint and the police officers had to admit what they'd done. Their punishment was to have one day's pay docked from their pay packet! The Police Complaints Authority is a joke - it's police officers investigating police officers - it hardly inspires confidence.

Overall NMP think there are two strains of racism - the racism that discriminates in recruitment, education, the media etc. and in East London you have the racism that kills - that's the difference - that's why NMP is here - it is such an issue.

Can you tell us a bit about the Dray family

Yeah - to understand this case you need to look at policing in East London. The stations are huge - they are not there to solve crime - they are there to contain, to police, the community. The one in Forest Gate is like a fortress - it's built to say 'here we are; don't mess around' and they drive around in TSG vans and riot vans - as if black people were rioting daily.

The fact that Paul Condon says that say 80% of muggers are black shows that its not just a few police officers on the ground but it goes right the way through. The Home Office's own figures show that black people are 7 times more likely to be arrested than white people; when they get arested they're more likely to be charged; when they go to court they're more likely to get convicted and on conviction the sentences are longer for black people than a white person in exactly the same position.

So this is the sort of policing black people get in Forest Gate - but equally this is the sort of policing that white working class people get in Canning Town and Custom House - they face the same sort of assaults and harassment. We are a black organisation, and the Drays' case was the first that NMP took on for a white family - but it was so, so important. This was a family who were very well known in Canning Town - they were big in their community. A lot of people had reservations - but you can't just go into a community and tell them not to be racist - you'll only get alienated. Policing was an issue that linked both communities - this inroad was well used by us and I think we did a really good job.

The Dray family's case was amazing - it centred around Lee Dray a 17 year old boy. The police had been driving around Canning Town and Custom House harassing local youths. In the same way that black youths are stereotyped as drug users, muggers, illegal immigrants etc., the white working class kids in Canning Town were seen as burglars, drug users, criminals. The police were randomly picking up kids - slapping them around and assaulting them. Lee Dray couldn't even walk from his house down the street to a friend's - he'd been attacked on numerous occasions by police officers. One police officer with 8 complaints of assault against him was still on the same beat.

Eventually one of them took the skin off one side of Lee's face - the pictures we took were horrific - they put his face to the ground and scraped it against the tarmac until the skin had gone - and the police officer responsible, PC John Fortune, is still there at Plaistow Police station. We took the police to court and won - the evidence against the police was upheld. But there's always a price to pay with the police - they charged Lee Dray with assault and disturbing the peace - so not only was he victimised but also criminalised and that's very, very important - they criminalise a whole generation and that's what policing today in inner cities is about - containment. For NMP the case was very successful because we made inroads into the white community and could address issues around fascism - the white community was much more receptive to our ideas after the Dray case and we were able to make links. The same social issues that were effecting the white working class community were affecting us and divided communities don't get anywhere. We needed to be united in order to fight for social justice.

Another important case was the Tower Hamlets 9 defence campaign. Derek Beacon had just been elected, the BNP were rampaging through Brick Lane and this young lad, Quddus Ali, was attacked. These fascists put his head on the kerb and took turns to kick it. He was in a coma on a life support machine and to this day he cannot eat without help. There was a vigil outside the hospital for Quddus and the average age of the kids on the vigil was 14 - 15 yet the riot police attacked them. After the incident they randomly drove around the borough, picked up 5 kids and charged them with riot - only four of them were arrested at the vigil but the police needed 9 defendants to make a charge of riot stick - it's a very serious offence carrying a maximum sentance of 10 years. NMP did the campaign for the Tower Hamlets 9 - highlighting the fact that the police had done nothing to arrest the people who attacked Quddus Ali despite ample evidence of their identity . The problem is that you want to trust the police - that's who you ring when you're attacked but you can't have faith in them. I should have no fears about walking past a police car - but I do - when I walk past a cop car I think to myself 'God I hope he doesn't get out, hope he doesn't stop me, hope he doesn't search me or push me around'. It's no coincidence that 80% of black people and women joining the police leave within a year and that top police officers think Bernard Manning an appropriate entertainer for their staff events.

You talked about the Quddus Ali campaign and the Tower Hamlets 9 - but are there no organisations like NMP in Tower Hamlets or in the rest of the country?

There is CAPA in Tower Hamlets - a civil rights organisation - which is a good organisation but civil rights can be anything. I think what is needed in Tower Hamlets is a group solely concentrating on racial and police harassment. Also in our 18 years of campaigning the NMP have never sat at the same table as the police - how can you when you have seen injury after injury inflicted by the police on the bodies of the people who come to us for help? But groups like CAPA are part of the "multi agency approach" (where statutory and voluntary agencies including the police meet to deal with racial harassment issues) and we have problems with this. We feel that it's a talking shop and the council and police can use it as a buffer. Newham had an amazing structure for dealing with racial attacks and harassment - but what did they do? They simply employed black race officers - somebody would get attacked, come into the council office, see a black face and they'd become a buffer between the victim and the local authority and nothing changes.

What's worse is that when the council stopped NMP's funding they gave the money to an organisation called ALERT who deal solely with racial harassment issues in Newham and not policing issues. Incredibly, ALERT is run by ex-police officers from Stoke Newington. So the issue was never money - the authority were uncomfortable with our stance on policing. ALERT is a 9-5 organisation with no roots in the community. Three weeks ago I found 2 swastikas painted in white paint outside my house and I rang ALERT to report it. The worker on the other end of the phone didn't even know what a swastika was! Even when I said it was a Nazi symbol this didn't ring any bells with her. She said she'd get someone to phone me back and an hour later a man called me to ask me about some 'frosty stickers' outside my house! I put my head in my hands and thought this is a borough where in the local elections 19 BNP candidates were standing - leafleting every weekend - and the local racial harassment outfit do not even know what a swastika is. It's scary. In a borough where a black single parent could be housed with known fascists as neighbours - the local agency that should be helping her did not have even a basic understanding of what fascism is.

Issues have changed in the last 18 years and racism used to be high on the agenda. It isn't anymore. Local authorities and the police have now learned the language - they've learned to shed crocodile tears but will not do anything. Policing has become a very controversial subject and none of the political parties want to touch it. Law and order is a big vote catcher. Somewhere like Chigwell the style of policing will be completely different - local bobby on the street - but you don't get that in Newham. In Newham black people stopped for a faulty wing mirror will be asked to show their passport. That's what it is to be British for a black person at the moment and only an independent community organisation will speak out about these things.

If someone was to try to set up a group like NMP from scratch, what advice would you give them, particularly as many anarchists are increasingly seeing the need for working in small groups within their local areas.

Southhall monitoring group is an example of another group like us and there are a few others. NMP has 18 years of experience now and we've made a lot of mistakes, along the way. We've not been perfect but experience is invaluable. We'd be happy for people to phone us or talk to us about setting up their own group. But most importantly you need to be part of the community where you want to work. People like the SWP who go in and leaflet for a week, put up posters everywhere and then piss off achieve fuck all. In fact I think it does more damage than good. As soon as they go away, black people in that area get attacked - they're left to face the backlash.

Yes, I remember friends with black children on the Isle of Dogs during the BNP election campaign who said that they couldn't go out after the ANL had been around. If the ANL had been around on a Saturday then the BNP would be around all night and they would be housebound - they got no support and felt that the ANL acted as if the local community didn't exist - wouldn't talk to them unless it was to recruit.

Yeah that's true. NMP has always maintained that you have to deal with fascism ideologically, politically and physically. So if they leaflet - we leaflet - it is important to make sure there is no platform for fascists - if they're on the street, we'll be on the street. You can't allow them to have that space. So in Newham, where fascist activity is strong - 3 or 4 years ago they were 66 votes away from getting a councillor - you have to work within the community. The worst thing you can do is walk into a community and say "don't be racist" and walk away - you have to talk and work with them. Of course for me the only good fascist is a dead fascist, fine, but any campaign has to have staying power and has to politicise people. Once a community is politicised they will always be able to fight back.

One of the problems is that, especially in London, it is hard to feel rooted in your local community - you move to a neighbouring borough and you're an outsider! We may feel a part of our own little ghetto but don't even know our neighbours.

You've got to work from the bottom up - the fascists do this, they're clever - they go to tenants' association meetings and other small community meetings and manipulate them. There is no left any more and people need to start from scratch and make links wherever you can. There is a problem with people becomming more and more isolated from each other and this has to be tackled. BF: So its a question of starting small and tackling things that you can definitely achieve and working from there - the opposite of what a lot of big left groups do which is to start with a lot of razzmatazz and noise.

Take our emergency service for example - we have 80 volunteers all from the community. They give an evening once a month and will do it. That's where our strength lies - in our volunteers. We only had 3 or 4 workers, but look what we achieved - local and national campaigns and we could only do it because of the support in the community. And of course it took time to build up - NMP were fortunate (if you can put it like that) in that a lot of black people were experiencing the same problems and needed solutions. You're not talking about passive victims. These people had been fighting racism from day one and had the tools - they know what they are dealing with. It's important not to stand in front of people saying "I'll lead you to the promised land", but to say "we'll stand side by side and deal with it together".

If someone phoned your emergency line and said there's five people attacking my home - what would you do?

We'd phone the police, but also we have a telephone tree which we use to get volunteers down there to support the family. I don't want no favours from the police, I just want them to do their job. You need people there to protect the family from police indifference or worse. Of course, you end up sometimes with the police acting true to form and nicking the NMP volunteers that turn up rather than going for the attackers.

Do you ever get problems with people treating you as experts and expecting you to work miracles? You said that you try to get people to link up and support each other, but do you get situations where people start to treat you like you're the council? Where they ask you to provide the solutions rather than for support in fighting back?

The basics of everything we do is empowerment and to be honest - none of these people are passive victims, they've all fought back. The stereotype of the timid Asian woman hiding behind the window is bullshit. The problem is that when you do fight back you get nicked. People do ask us what we can do - and we are honest about the limitations of some courses of action. We'll write letters to the Police Complaints Authority or to the council but admit that it is unlikely to result in any action. We say it's important to do it so we can say that we made x number of complaints and nothing was done. Our reputation and history show people who come to us not to expect us to act like the council but to work with them and not for them.

Would you be prepared to come to a meeting of people wanting to set a group up?

Of course. We'd love for other similar groups to be set up and to make links with them. Its even more important now. Now we've got this Labour government - for years working class people have been waiting for a Labour government to get in and suddenly they've been shat on. We are very worried about a fascist backlash and we know that the government won't do anything for us - they won't provide shit. It's a problem we are going to have to deal with. But policing is, for us, the biggest issue at the moment. Today a case came in where 3 riot vans raided a house, armed with CS gas, and arrested a bloke who had done nothing. Another case that came in recently was a priest that had been raided and assaulted in his home! Most people wouldn't believe this could happen. The Stephen Lawrence case really epitomises the state of policing in this country at the moment. The police are the front line of the state and the state is racist - for me policing is the most forceful manifestation of the state. They are fully armed. Their uniform is a licence to kill. The gap between the community and the police is bigger than ever before. The role of policing in inner cities is to make sure that people stay in their ghettos and are contained.

People in the inner cities are nothing to politician, nothing to the police. Black lives are cheap and working class lives are cheap, that's why NMP has always been a race and class organisation. It is important to make links between working class communities, working class black communities, and anti fascist organisations in the fight for justice. That's NMP's politics and for me, this is where it's at.

NMP can be contacted at PO Box 273, London E7 telephone/fax 0181-555 8151


Review of "African Anarchism"

A review of African Anarchism by Sam Mbah and I.E. Igariwey, from Black Flag 214, published in 1998.

Submitted by martinh on October 1, 2006

Written by 2 Nigerian anarchists, members of the Awareness League, the book contains a useful potted history of anarchist theory, a sideswipe at the failure of "African socialism" and asserts that "the process of anarchist transformation in Africa might prove comparatively easy, given that Africa lacks a strong capitalist foundation, well-developed class formations and relations of production, and a stable, entrenched state system." Given the comrades' own experience of the vicious resilience of the military in propping up the status quo in Nigeria, this seems more than a little naive, particularly as the book's only suggestions as to strategy in this regard are for a "long term program of class consciousness building, relevant education and increased individual participation in social struggles."

Nevertheless, the book is particularly illuminating in detailing anarchist precedents in African communalism, drawing on past work by such writers as Walter Rodney in How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. In traditional African societies "communities produced surpluses of given commodities which they exchanged, through barter, for those items they lacked. The situation was such that no one starved while others stuffed themselves and threw away the excess." The authors examine the "stateless societies" of the Igbo, the Niger Delta peoples and the Tallensi, based on extended family structures, clan societies and village councils.

They refer favourably to the writings of the Tanzanian Marxist Julius Nyerere and his concept of Ujamaa, "familyhood"- "rural economic and social communities where people live and work together for the good of all, their governments are chosen and led by the peasants and workers themselves."
The authors establish that the Ujamaa model "failed because it degenerated into state control over the peasants. Through its bureaucrats and technical assistants, the state started to dictate to the peasants what to do and what not to do, what to produce and what not to produce. Soon, too, the World Bank and other aid donors hijacked the program." Equally, the authors are clear that, contrary to some in the anarchist movement, rural subsistence is not a positive alternative to state socialism; that what African people require is "equality and an end to extreme want." The book is a genuinely provocative and exciting contribution to the development of an anarchist movement in the struggle for liberation in Africa. In welcoming it, however, we should not be blind to its weaknesses. The decolonisation of Africa took place under the banner of the battle for national independence. Given the arbitrary nature of so many African nation states, this was merely a flag of convenience for the comprador bourgeoisie. The book makes brief reference to the way in which ethnic tensions are used to undermine opposition across Africa, and notes that the roots of communal hatred often lie in an arbitrarily created ethnic/state consciousness. It posits class consciousness as the solution without looking at how ethnic consciousness can be drawn down the road of class awareness. In particular the authors give no consideration to ideas of Pan-Africanism, or to the concept of African Inter-communalism as put forward by the Panthers in the 60s and taken up by groups such as Black Autonomy now.

Equally, while scathing about the past failures of state socialism in Africa, the authors are silent about those who don't quite fit the mold. The book gives no consideration to the methods of organisation of Polisario, whose militias and structures, in war conditions, are organised along libertarian lines. Nor does it consider the initiatives of the Eritrean Peoples' Liberation Front, which has managed to cohere a society of nine different ethnic groups, and make genuine efforts towards the liberation of women; has land under community control, dams built, millions of trees planted and civil society slowly rebuilt with minimal centralisation of powers. Unless anarchists (and not just in Africa) are able to develop a critical but supportive relationship (i.e. real solidarity not just words on paper) with libertarian left movements engaged in real struggles - and this applies as much to the EZLN in Mexico as to the EPLF - we will forever be assigned to the roles of holier-than-thou carpers and backbiters, rather than seen as those most stridently engaged in the battle for liberty and equality. The Awareness League, we should remember, began, in their own words as "a leftist coalition composed of marxists, trotskyites, human rights activists, and leftists and radicals of various persuasions, and only cohered as an anarchist current in 1990, following critical analysis and debate over the collapse of Eastern European state socialism." As they moved, so others will follow, but not if we make the precondition for support of ongoing struggles wholesale ideological adherence to our flag above all. As Afuerke Isaras of the EPLF noted, "Third World societies should come out with new theories about their 'socialist' transformation."