Black Flag 208 (1996)

Partial contents of issue 208 of Black Flag magazine, published in 1996.

Contents

"The Land is Theirs"

Black Flag #208, June 1996, covered a land squat in London done by "The Land is Ours". This article is the critical evaluation of this by someone who participated.

THE LAND IS THEIRS
or, pace George Monbiot, "This Land Is my Uncle's"

Hailed as the next big thing since Newbury, 'The Land is Ours' provoked surprisingly little police interest. In fact the police had to be called and told that a bit of land had been taken, with the response, "Oh that sounds interesting - I'll send a couple of officers down to have a look." On arrival the two officers seem satisfied, "this seems to be a civil matter" and walked off.
Considering that we could have occupied anywhere - a minister's garden perhaps? - and that the police had shown interest at earlier, maybe they were quite satisfied that we had enough cops of own to prevent any naughty ideas. (This is not to say that a confrontation with the cops is necessarily what makes a campaign politically challenging.)
We were about 300 people at the meeting place in Hammersmith. The first 100 piled into the coach and went on their way to secure the location before the next 100 could join them. This was all jolly fun. After learning the location, the writer jumped in a van and went off to see. About half way there we were followed by two police vans who after arriving at the Shell garage next door turned around and drove off!
The site had a large wooden fence around it with a strong metal gate which had been painstakingly hack-sawed through the previous day. The location itself was a derelict piece of riverside land opposite a housing estate in Wandsworth. It was probably the only piece of green land the children from the estate could see from home... [cue violins!]
It was also nesting ground for ducks and it seems we were about to trash it. In fact the whole action had the appearance of being fundamentally ecologically unsound. It seemed that little thought had been put into taking the existing inhabitants (i.e. plants, animals and insects) into account - the site was divided up on the basis of suitability for construction projects.
The task of turning it into an alternative scout camp was well under way. With all the necessary middle class concern we had our own health and safety officer to make sure we were all doing it properly. Yes, an extremely tall scaffold tower was being constructed on site for conversion into a house. This fearsome construction, which reached the staggering height of 15 foot, could potentially harm all those involved in its building, and so we all had to wear hard hats!
We were also shepherded over to the other side of the field so as not to upset the neighbours, because our talking could supposedly be heard over the fuck-off big road next to us.
After complaints about egotists ordering you to plant the potatoes the right way up, there were inevitably a few disillusioned activists fed up with being ordered around by Oxbridge graduates. Why did we resent this campaign so much? Is it because George Monbiot sounds too much like Prince Charles?
Unlike last year's Land Is Ours event, this year we did actually go to the place that we planned to go and we were to stay longer than last year. George attempted to do the decent thing and step down from his usual media pulpit. However the five who volunteered to take over were shoved aside by the media vultures who went straight to George, undeterred by the great man himself, and yet again the reports acted as a launch pad for broadcasting George's personal socio-political interpretations.
So what did the locals think of it all? A good point of the campaign was that attention was given to going out and leafleting the local estates. It seems that most were pleased with what we were doing except for the usual couple of nutters who get wound up about anything.
It was indeed unfortunate that the initiative to regenerate this land came from an abstract group and not from the locals. There seemed to be little we could do about this. Perhaps the kids from the estate were dying to get on the land but couldn't. Maybe we unlocked a desire that had been in the minds of most of the locals who didn't want a supermarket there and wanted it for themselves. As with any permanent project that is to be successful it needs the full participation of local people as opposed to remaining securely in the grip of lifestylists, theorists and specialists. Increasingly as the week progressed, more locals showed an interest and were getting involved.
So what were the aims of this campaign? According to its leaflets, they were to house the homeless, i.e. make affordable housing, and to boost employment, i.e. create jobs. Both of these aims were to "bring the community together." To follow on from these points, there are already enough empty homes in London for all the city's homeless. However sustainable these new houses are, we don't need to be building them on London's few remaining green spaces.
The campaign claims that we need concentrated, centralised cities in order to prevent destructive urban sprawl. But the fact is that people who actually live in cities need green spaces for their well-being. Shouldn't we try to make empty houses sustainable? There are approximately 860,000 of them in the country after all.
There is an obvious contradiction in building sustainable communities - which should not include alienating work for the capitalist system, i.e. turning labour into a commodity- and yet advocating "full employment". The term "employment" is riddled with capitalist assumptions. Surely advocating employment in these terms only serves to perpetuate alienated social relations - the antithesis of the authentic community that we all seek to build.
In the context of the rest of their aims it is implausible to assume that this term is being used in a subversive way.
The general impression was that the campaign, as well as having reformist demands, was still very middle class, which had put some people off from attending the planning meetings. It seemed as though what we had all thought of as being a part of the movement was becoming increasingly alienated and away on its own trajectory, becoming seriously assimilated into dominant culture.
It seemed we were less into challenging authorities and more into putting a reasonable argument across and winning the hearts and minds of the Guardian-reading public.
We were not about radically confronting private property.
And what of Monbiot's "working in partnership with Guinness" theme, where both the campaign and Guinness can come to some compromise? After all, it would provide wonderful P.R. for their environmental record, making it easier for them to destroy other areas of land. Guinness have so far not come to some "amicable agreement" despite the campaign's pleas. Admittedly campaigners went and told Guiness what they had done and invited them to have a look thus in their action there was no compromise, only in the campaign using the talks to look reasonable to the media.
According to the leaflet we also need:

"some physical and political space. This means:
New planning guidelines, bolder targets for derelict land use, banning off-site planning gain".

Where is the physical space in this? Who decides what is derelict and what does it mean? Is it taking over the few remaining green spaces in the city? and what's all this legitimising the power of the state?
With the campaigns own submission of a planning application to the council and with the campaigns "make cheques payable to Land Reform" it is clear that what the campaign is really asking for is a reform in planning policy.
They are not saying this land is ours.
They are not challenging the issue of private property.
They, like so many others, are tinkering with the system demanding concessions, trying not to induce panic into the minds of all capitalists, and mocking the whole land rights issue. Meanwhile in Third World countries these same capitalists they are trying to compromise with daily extirpate land from people in a bid for economic growth.
In so doing they become another form of oppression against which the dispossessed must fight. The Land Is Ours is making the land issue safe, ridding it of any potential of changing anything.
The campaign attempts to unite what squatters and travellers have been doing for years, with the permaculturists' ideas of sustainability.
The campaign uses two methods to do this-:
1) content
2) symbolism and media representation

If we are talking about real content when it comes to solving "homelessness" etc., we are talking about taking over some of the empty buildings in London and making them more sustainable to cut down the suburbanization of our countryside, not using the few green spaces in the city.
The problem with taking over houses would mean that although this type of action could be turned into a media spectacle it would hardly be original and for media interest it would have to be novel e.g. turning Westminster into a squat. The idea to take over a building was also mainly turned down by the permaculturists who wanted to show how to grow things in a more sustainable way.
The symbolic part is supposed to get more people involved and to educate the public about the issue so that they become sympathetic to their aims...
As regards to symbolism the campaign turned "The land is ours" into something intelligible to the public. The campaign's way of doing this was to turn it into a digestible media package. We could launch into a critique of the media but this is hardly necessary. The danger is that representation becomes more important than that to be represented leading us into the realm of virtual politics.
The other side of the coin not mentioned is confrontation (note this could also have a side effect of media spectacularisation). This type of action for example could be taking over a bank or ministers house and filling it with grow bags. This would not be the soft option of taking over a remote piece of land that no one's particularly bothered about, it is certainly more challenging to the Property ethic. Impinging on the personal property of land owners would be more confrontational, questioning the whole property ethic. Taking over vacant corporate property is something of a neutral territory for a company the size of Guinness. In terms of their annual profits the value of the land in question is next to nothing. Their corporate image, as well as maintaining an appearance of environmental conscience, could potentially benefit, and give their sterile corporation a human face.
We can see that no action is without its flaws and simply because we live in a capitalist society, the campaign balanced the two points well. We should obviously seek to improve our actions but it is equally important how the participants perceive their action in terms of the relationship between its nature and its aims.
So let's get to the real issues here. No one can deny that the event was mainly a demonstration model for the purpose of influencing future government policy.
The fundamental concepts underpinning the land issue are totally ignored by this campaign - i.e. class struggle (approximately 95% of the land is owned by 5% of the population).
Let's look at the specifics of this campaign that have led many to feel that unlike any other perceived single issue campaigns in our movement this is specifically liberal.
Monbiot's line is that direct action at present (including by implication The Land Is Ours) "transcends class and traditional loyalties."
The only reason direct action nowadays has such an interesting alliance e.g. workers and hippies, capitalists and the exploited is that it focuses on the green issue (primarily environmentalism not ecologism- see footnote) which is seen to affect everybody. The thing that stands in the way of realising a sustainable ecological future is the organised power of the state. Unless this is taken on board no real change is possible.
In common with most others of his type, Monbiot sees his ideas as being apolitical, this is a fundamental error in that liberal democracy is as much a political ideology as any other. It does not cease to be so when stained Green.
He puts the neglect of environmental concerns as-
"In the absence of meaningful initiatives from government, local authorities and business, it is left to activists to do what these sectors have neglected."

To suggest that we are just a reaction to government incompetence and not that government laws such as the CJA are a reaction to our struggle is a staggering statement for a direct action group to make - essentially saying that the state/capitalism is somehow inefficient i.e. its not doing its job properly - that we can somehow fill this gap and help them.

]

This is all based on the completely incorrect assumption that capital cares! Within this context the very concept of Direct Action becomes hijacked and used as a tactic to change government policy. Direct Action is not about negating individual responsibility but instead about empowerment to take control of your own life.
It is very difficult to call for revolution from one isolated action, some may say they have transitional demands but it's a different story altogether when the very nature of those demands inhibit any chance of real change i.e. inhibit other peoples struggle against the state.
"Reasonableness" is one of their key themes - based on the liberal view that society is simply composed of individual human beings who share common human interests; hence any conflicts which arise are simply the results of misplaced fears or misunderstandings.
The Land Is Ours is made up of respectable and honest human beings who are making a valuable but unorthodox contribution to society (i.e. have been forced to take action because government, its agents and business are not doing their job properly). Within this context the way forward is to demonstrate to the rest of society (or the section of it that reads the Guardian at any rate) the reasonableness and positive nature of their demands.
The Land Is Ours was about overcoming prejudice, showing the state that we were positive - the campaign was thus apolitical.
 The Land Is Ours denies the state as a social force
 The Land Is Ours falls into the trap where the representation becomes more important than that to be represented.
 The Land Is Ours is defeatist i.e. notably not thinking about building a movement to smash capitalism because we are too weak to do so.

Liberalism presupposes democracy as a freedom to choose. However our choices have parameters, we are not allowed to argue fundamentals like the choice of whether we have a government or not, only which government to have and the forms of oppression they will use on us. Liberalism is an attempt to disguise these given laws.
The Liberal is someone who is complicit with the system, who understands and is sympathetic with all points of view, even those of a radical. However, the liberal draws a line which the radical must not cross. That line is when the actions of a radical challenge the system. The radical is then dismissed as being violent, extremist, unobjective. You can be sure that if the police did wade in on the demonstration and some people defended themselves, the liberal would be the first to turn you over to the police, as you would be accused of discrediting the campaign and therefore not being reasonable.
You would be provoking the police to be violent. You become the negotiating tool. Monbiot and his Oxbridge friends identify with the system. They are not the dispossessed they claim to represent. They can see no conflict of interests.
Taking the land issue seriously means stopping it being hi-jacked by opportunists like this.

 Note-You'll have to push the destructive nature of this rambling aside. After all the divisive and counter-productive theoretical pettiness of the left it's refreshing to see people going out and doing something. We believe that the land issue is vitally important struggle which has unfortunately been taken over by those with little or no intention of changing class relationships in society and as a result becomes a safe and toothless part of the very system that oppresses us. Both action without theory and theory without action are equally destructive what is desperately needed is effort towards a unity of theory and practice. The purpose of this criticism is therefore to be constructive.

[Footnote] Environmentalism studies the world in a dualistic and reductionist way having little bearing on relationships in reality. It is purely set up in a way that serves capitals needs. Ecologism assumes relationships in a more interdependent way.
"There is no such things as species" see E.O. Wilson's Diversity Of Life for an in depth description
Written by infantile, paranoid ultra-leftist

Albert Meltzer obituary

This obituary originally appeared in Black Flag #208, June 1996 and was penned by Stuart Christie.
Albert Meltzer, anarchist, born London, January 7,1920;
died, Weston-Super-Mare, North Somerset, May 7, 1996.

Albert Meltzer was one of the most enduring and respected torchbearers of the international anarchist movement in the second half of the twentieth century. His sixty-year commitment to the vision and practice of anarchism survived both the collapse of the Revolution and Civil War in Spain and The Second World War; he helped fuel the libertarian impetus of the 1960s and 1970s and steer it through the reactionary challenges of the Thatcherite 1980s and post-Cold War 1990s.
Fortunately, before he died, Albert managed to finish his autobiography, I Couldn't Paint Golden Angels, a pungent, no-punches pulled, Schvejkian account of a radical twentieth century enemy of humbug and injustice. A life-long trade union activist, he fought Mosley's Blackshirts in the battle of Cable Street, played an active role in supporting the anarchist communes and militias in the Spanish Revolution and the pre-war German anti-Nazi resistance, was a key player in the Cairo Mutiny during The Second World War, helped rebuild the post-war anti-Franco resistance in Spain and the international anarchist movement. His achievements include Cuddon's Cosmopolitan Review, an occasional satirical review first published in 1965 and named after Ambrose Cuddon, possibly the first consciously anarchist publisher in the modern sense, the founding of the Anarchist Black Cross, a prisoners' aid and ginger group and the paper which grew out of it "” Black Flag.
However, perhaps Albert's most enduring legacy is the Kate Sharpley Library, probably the most comprehensive anarchist archive in Britain.
Born in 1920 into a mixed marriage in the London of Orwell's Down and Out in which there were few homes for heroes, but many heroes fit only for homes, Albert was soon enrolled into political life as a private in the awkward squad. His decision to go down the road of revolutionary politics came, he claimed, in 1935 at the age of 15 - as a direct result of taking boxing lessons. Boxing was considered a "common" sport, frowned upon by the governors of his Edmonton school and the prospective Labour MP for the area, the virulently anti-boxing Dr Edith Summerskill. Perhaps it was the boxer's legs and footwork he acquired as a youth which gave him his lifelong ability to bear his considerable bulk. It certainly induced a lifetime's habit of shrewd assessment of his own and opponents' respective strengths and weaknesses.
The streetwise, pugilistic but bookish schoolboy attended his first anarchist meeting in 1935 where he first drew attention to himself by contradicting the speaker, Emma Goldman, by his defence of boxing. He soon made friends with the ageing anarchist militants of a previous generation and became a regular and dynamic participant in public meetings.
The anarchist-led resistance to the Franco uprising in Spain in 1936 gave a major boost to the movement in Britain and Albert's activities ranged from organising solidarity appeals, to producing propaganda, working with Captain J R White to organise illegal arms shipments from Hamburg to the CNT in Spain and acting as a contact for the Spanish anarchist intelligence services in Britain.
Albert's early working career ranged from fairground promoter, a theatre-hand and occasional film extra. Albert appeared briefly in Leslie Howard's Pimpernel Smith, an anti-Nazi film that did not follow the line of victory but rather of revolution in Europe. The plot called for communist prisoners, but by the time Howard came to make it, in 1940, Stalin had invaded Finland, and the script was changed to anarchist prisoners. Howard decided that none of the actors playing the anarchists seemed real and insisted that real anarchists, including Albert, be used as extras in the concentration camp scenes.
One consequence of this meeting was Howard's introduction to Hilda Monte, a prominent but unsung hero of the German anarchist resistance to Hitler, which may have contributed to his subsequent death en route to Lisbon.
Albert's later working years were spent mainly as a second-hand bookseller and, finally, as a Fleet Street copytaker. His last employer was, strangely enough, The Daily Telegraph.
While by nature a remarkably gentle, generous and gracious soul, Albert's championship of anarchism as a revolutionary working class movement brought him into direct and sustained conflict with the neo-liberals who came to dominate the movement in the late 1940s. Just as people are drawn to totalitarian movements like fascism and communism because of their implicit violence and ideological certainties, many otherwise politically incompatible people were drawn to anarchism because of its militant tolerance. Albert was vehemently opposed to the re-packaging and marketing of anarchism as a broad church for academia-oriented quietists and single-issue pressure groups. It was ironical that one of this group, the late Professor George Woodcock, should publicly dismiss anarchism as a spent historical force in 1962, blissfully unaware of the post-Butskellite storm which was about to break and the influence anarchist and libertarian ideas would have on this and generations yet to come.
It was his championship of class-struggle anarchism, coupled with his scepticism of the student-led New Left in the 1960s which earned Albert his reputation for sectarianism. Paradoxically, as friend and Black Flag cartoonist Phil Ruff points out in his introduction to Albert's autobiography, it was the discovery of class struggle anarchism through the "sectarianism" of Black Flag under Albert's editorship that convinced so many anarchists of his and subsequent generations to become active in the movement'. The dynamic and logic of Albert's so-called sectarianism continued to bring countless young people into the anarchist movement then and for a further thirty years until his untimely stroke in April 1996.
It is difficult to write a public appreciation of such an inscrutably private man. Albert Meltzer seemed often like a member of a tug-of-war team; you never quite knew if he was there simply to make up numbers or if he was the anchor-man of the whole operation. To Albert, all privilege was the enemy of human freedom; not just the privileges of capitalists, kings, bureaucrats and politicians but also the petty aspirations of opportunists and careerists among the rebels themselves. Much of what he contributed to the lives of those who knew him must go unrecorded, but he will be remembered and talked about fondly for many years to come by those of us whose lives he touched.

Stuart Christie

Chemical World

This article was originally in Black Flag #208, published in 1996. It was written by a member of the grassroots Communities Against Toxics, who publish ToxCat.

Phthalates, dioxins, other chemicals and infants

Scientists tell us that there are 500 measurable synthetic chemicals in our bodies which are capable of disrupting our fertility and intelligence. Politicians and industrialists tell us the levels are insufficient to cause these problems. Who do you believe? Who do you trust?
What are the consequences to society of a 5% drop in IQ? What if the decline in sperm count continues to the point that men become infertile? These are crucial questions because these chemicals are ubiquitous in society. They are found in pesticides, plastics, detergents, cosmetics and environmental pollutants. Eventually, in tiny amounts, they end up in our bodies where they cause a range of illnesses from respiratory disease (on initial exposure), to cancer (up to 20 years after exposure began), and reproductive effects (which begin during cell development in the foetus where the damage is permanent).
Your choice is simple. You can trust the politicians' rhetoric and allow yourself to be exposed to these chemicals, or you can change your life style and do something about it.
We live in a toxic world, some would say a world with its biological diversity in the first phase of meltdown. Yet the print and electronic media trivialise the issue of chemicals in food and in our bodies, not least because scare stories are the rage in our risk management society.
"There's no gain without pain," our ruling elite argue, and we can only agree that if we want to create a world that is a technological and scientific marvel we must take and accept these risks.
It's this "we" that I have trouble with, not forgetting those who make these utterances when we (the majority of global society) meekly question what is happening to us during this quest for the technological nirvana. Let's not get carried away cry the bureaucrats and industrialists when someone wonders why chemicals in infant formula milk might be a problem.
It was Lewis Mumford, writing more than half a century ago, who put this debate in perspective when he attempted to clarify why technological progress would have an impact on society. "By putting business before every other manifestation of life," he wrote in The Future of Technics and Civilisation, "our mechanical and financial leaders have neglected the chief business of life: namely, growth, reproduction, development, expression. Paying infinite attention to the invention and perfection of incubators, they have forgotten the egg, and its reason for existence." So this most recent food-scare is not a problem if you actually understand anything about the means and modes of production, particularly the processes used by the multi-billion dollar, multinational chemical industry and about capitalist industry, particularly its dependence on fossil fuels, petrochemicals and their derivatives. We cannot manufacture our products without these chemicals, industry screams whingeing all the while about technological progress. Modern society cannot exist without these products, the chemical industry in particular insists.
This, as you should know, is not true, a point once made by Beeching who did more than most to promote the development of the petrochemical industry. "Instead of producing new products to satisfy existing industrial needs, it is, increasingly, producing new forms of matter which not only replace the materials used by existing industries, but which cause extension and modification of those industries. To an increasing degree it forces existing industries to adapt themselves to use its products."
On one side we have industry and its obsession with technological progress while on the other we have not only the human species but every other earthly species as well. To keep on the track of technological progression the chemical industry must continue to synthesise new compounds combining petrochemicals with chlorine but in doing so it actually creates synthetic chemicals capable of disrupting the fertility and intelligence of thousands of species including humans.
Phthalates, the chemicals found in infant formula milk, are abundant in modern technology; they are known as plasticisers because they soften polyvinylchloride (PVC) and are also used in paints, inks and plastic flooring and covering. If you have been following the debate (and that is all it is at the moment) about environmental oestrogens and endocrine disrupters - synthetic chemicals capable of mimicking and disrupting ovarian hormones - you will know that phthlates are the very tip of an iceberg that contains a myriad of very toxic substances. If, sadly, you are one of the many out there trapped in wage-slave-television culture, dependent on mass media for your social and political awareness and creative stimulation, you're probably either confused, apathetic or scared shitless. If you are confused you have my sympathy - for the time it takes me to blink; if you are apathetic you rise my anger and despair; if you are scared shitless you give me hope, that you will begin to do something about the ecological and biological damage being done by mankind (sic) to this planet and its species.
The synthetic chemicals present in our air, seas, rivers, soil, grass and food are a major problem, but you don't need to be a toxicologist, endocrinologist, epidemiologist, biologist or environmental scientist to understand what this means. You certainly don't need the media to patronise you while feeding you lies and excuses from bureaucrats, industrialists, politicians and scientists. What you do need to know is that these chemicals do not go away; they do not break down, they are not biodegradable. Because they are fat soluble they accumulate in the cells of each species that encounters them, slowly rising up the food chain where they will stick around for at least seven generations causing gradual and varying degrees of biological damage that might well be irreversible.
Not only do we live in a toxic world, the toxic chemicals live in us - in wildlife and in humans. The damage to wildlife over the past four decades alone from toxic pollution is as sure an indicator as you will find that many species have lost the ability to reproduce or to adapt to environmental change. The anecdotal, never mind scientific, evidence that chemicals are affecting wildlife has been ignored for years. To echo the words of those scientists who have been trying to alert the ruling elites to this disturbing reality, "you'd have to be an idiot not to believe that we are next".
Yet despite what the enlightened few are describing as an apocalyptic scenario the media and parliament treat us to a game of trivial deceit, debasing the quality of our lives with scare stories that insult our intelligence.
So yes, we probably are all idiots to believe what the mainstream media tell us. It's worth remembering, if you are old enough, that 'toxic' scare stories in the media have been around since people like Murray Bookchin and Rachel Carson warned us about the dangers of pesticides in the 50s and 60s. There's nothing new about them - the media's presentation is as ignorant as ever; it is the treatment not the content that makes the story for the media. So it is perhaps significant that this summer we have gone full circle with the toxic scare stories of the latter half of the 20th century; notably pesticides, herbicides, pharmaceuticals and synthetic chemicals which are more commonly known as DDT, lindane, 2,4,5-T, dioxin, thalidomide, DES, etc..
But let's start with the thalidomide "scare" story. In 1954 enterprising German chemists created a new drug called thalidomide. It seemed to be an ideal sleeping pill and tranquilliser and after three years of animal tests it was judged so safe that it was approved for over the counter (non prescription) sale throughout Germany. By 1960 thalidomide was Germany's most popular sleeping pill and tranquilliser. It was also a huge financial success and was marketed under 50 different trade names in 24 countries, including Distillers in Britain where it was prescribed as a morning sickness/nausea pill to pregnant women.
Then a report appeared in a British medical journal, indicating that persistent users of thalidomide had developed nerve damage in their hands and feet. In Germany there was an outbreak of phocomelia (which means literally "seal limbs") - a terrible deformity in which babies are born with tiny flipper-like stumps instead of arms and hands. In America a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officer who had been considering an application to market thalidomide in the US asked the chemical company who wanted to market it to conduct studies to show that the drug could be safely taken by pregnant women without harming the foetus. In November 1961 Dr Widuking Lenz in Germany and Dr W.G. McBride in Australia, almost simultaneously, observed that the mothers of several babies with phocomelia had one thing in common, they had taken thalidomide in the first 20 to 40 days of pregnancy. In September the following year the extent of the damage was confirmed.
In the four years since 1957, when this wonderful pill was first approved for sale, thalidomide had caused 10,000 cases of birth malformations in western Germany. In England a thousand cases were reported. No one has ever tallied the damage in the other 22 countries where the drug was sold.
Reading this story now probably gives the impression that it broke as soon as the scientists discovered what was happening - but it didn't. Although the Sunday Times 'Insight' team is given and takes credit for breaking the thalidomide story in reality the media has nothing to congratulate itself about, no less than government. Although those critical of synthetic chemicals had tried to alert the wider public to the dangers of the chemical and pharmaceutical industries it was several years before the tragedy of thalidomide became clear and even longer before the British Government and Distillers admitted their liability. It was 1973 before the Thalidomide Trust was set up to distribute compensation to those born with birth defects as a result of their mothers' misfortune and even then only 460 people were included among those officially deformed by the drug. Distillers graciously gave £19 million, the Government £5m; obviously this wasn't enough to compensate the victims of thalidomide so the Trust had to keep plugging away at the company and at government for more money. Distillers finally paid another £37.5m and told the Trust that was thei "žr lot - if they wanted more the government would have to fork out. On June 5, 1996 the Government announced that it would pay another £7m.
Was this a major news story? In some papers it merited a paragraph, in others it was ignored. The reason? Because it wasn't a worthy news story. Yet thalidomide was a quality "scare" story when it broke during the early 60s, simply because its effects were apparent fairly immediately.
The same cannot be said about phthalates or DDT, or even about dioxins, because, as a news editor of a national newspaper will tell you "there's no dead or deformed bodies?" By distorting the phthalates story the mainstream media has, whether deliberately or accidentally, trivialised the issue to such an extent that most people don't know what to believe anymore. Phthalates are of concern because the levels found by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF) have been reported to cause reproductive effects in wildlife. They are an issue because the synergistic effects of endocrine disrupters such as phthalates and dioxins and PCBs work at low rather than high doses - which means that there is no safe level. The body burden of these chemicals is already sufficient to cause damage to fertility and intelligence but don't be waiting for the dead bodies or the deformed babies. Instead consider, as they grow, the intelligence levels of your friends' and neighbours' young children, if after a while you even notice that children are still being born. But of course they are and of course children are as intelligent as they always were; after all I'm just scaremongering - aren't I?
Let's not ask why teachers using the same methods they always have, regardless of trendy "new" methods, are finding the reading age of the average pupil to be well below their biological age; or that the drop in sperm count is being recognised as being accompanied by a decrease in motility (they can't bloody swim) and an increase in mutant sperm that are just not viable...

On the same day that the government announced its £7m payment to the Thalidomide Trust, Shanks and McEwan (who own ReChem) gleefully told the media that they were in pretax profit again. And ReChem, after losing £388,000 in 1994, had made pretax profits of £418,000 in 1995. Yet Rechem, who "sue and bruise easily", are one of many filthy firms who make it their business to guarantee the need for future incarnations of the Thalidomide Trust, and for ever larger segments of our population. In 1990 the Welsh Affairs committee recommended, on the basis of extreme levels of PCB at Rechem, Pontypool, that Ã’major incinerators are not in future located near residential areas. PCBs and dioxins have no safe threshold level, and are the cause of various deformities in newborn babies around the Rechem plant (though legally the victim must prove harm, with no pressure on industry to prove their case - see the recent farce over BSE). These deformities include microphthalmia (no eyelids), and anophthalmia (lack of an eye). Other problems, all seen throughout Britain at this time, and also linked to incineration, include limblessness and skull-plate deformities. In adults, chloracne, cancers, immunological problems, and reproductive failures (in men and women, the former suffering reduced sperm counts and deformed sperm, the latter suffering, in extreme cases, intersexuality, wherein the "woman" has both female and male genitalia inside herself, neither functional) are amongst the terrible health effects of proximity to these toxins. These chemicals are becoming common throughout the environment, and no longer just in industrial areas. When we reach the "population threshold" (ie; when the localised effects spread until they join up, making the maps of toxics one big red danger zone), who then will be able to afford "charity"? Despite which, yet another urban incinerator (SELCHP) was opened in Bermondsey, South London, only two years ago - and another is proposed for Woolwich.
Still, June is a good month for scare stories, a prelude to the silly season - as Shanks and McEwan announced their wonderful profits, and the government finally coughed up a little more for the victims of Thalidomide, the US Environmental Protection Agency announced that pesticide use in the USA had reached record levels. According to the Natural Resources Defence Council, which compiled the information for the US EPA, 544 million kilograms of pesticides were sprayed on crops and grassland in the year up to March 1995.
"Many of these chemicals are acutely or chronically toxic, cause cancer, birth defects, are endocrine disrupters and can cause severe adverse environmental impacts," said an official with the NRDC.
But so what! We know from bitter experience that this will make little difference to the capitalist industrialists until it is even more totally too late.

Robert Allen

Dunblane - what made Hamilton tick?

This was published in Black Flag #208, in 1996 not long after the horrific massacre at Dunblane. The media at the time were pre-occupied with gun control, here Albert Meltzer argues that they missed the point.

The Dunblane Massacre -
What Made Hamilton Tick?

Thomas Hamilton walked into a classroom at Dunblane, where he was well known, and shot the teacher and almost the entire class of five year olds. In the national mourning many questions were raised as to how this could have been prevented. As he had killed himself anyway, like Fred West the serial murderer-rapist, there could hardly be any of the usual cries for the re-introduction of the death penalty. Though it was generally claimed that it is all the harder for parents who can't understand why Hamilton acted the way he did, it was taken for granted politics must be kept out of it. Now that it is passed over as yesterday's news, perhaps the time has come to make those politics known.

Political understanding has everything to do with it. The police, local councillors, even the Secretary of State for Scotland, knew the man, had interviewed him and either failed to note he displayed obvious Naziclone tendencies or more likely ignored them as irrelevant to his having a gun licence. He was not far from their own mentality, just far enough to make him a misfit.

With the gun lobby on the defensive the question was raised of peaceful farmers or local people in the Highlands and Islands needing handguns to shoot rabbits, either as a pest or for food where vegetables and fruit are rare and expensive. It should be noted that the same Scottish Office which granted a gun license to Hamilton, refused one to an Islands resident, then an editor of Black Flag with no criminal convictions, who just wanted to shoot rabbits like everyone else there. Why? On account of his 'political extremism'. For them, Hamilton was 'a bit queer perhaps but otherwise one of us.'

What is a Naziclone?

One can distinguish, though they are all obnoxious, between the fascist who wants to keep down the working class by all necessary means, and also the one who thinks it is an alternative political or racial theory which may perhaps entail violence against those naturally or forced into being defenceless. There is another type one may call the ''naziclone', i.e.someone who doesn't give a shit about the political or racial side of fascism or nazism but glories in the inevitable atrocities. The fantasist-fascist of this ilk is not uncommon though often confining him/herself to a dreamland where a handsome young führer struts through Whitehall planning mayhem. They can be incited to enact their fantasies by fascist propaganda, but also by reading anti-Nazi books. They lick their lips over the Holocaust books and bemoan insufficient illustrations. Colin Brady was one such, and with his partner Myra Hindley tortured and murdered small children from around the neighbourhood.

How could Hamilton's nature have been recognised? True, he had done nothing for which he could have been charged but clearly gun licences are subject to political assessment. Only the Establishment found his credentials impeccable.
All naziclones have an obsession with lethal weapons, over and above any use of them. They enjoy imposing harsh discipline. Swaggering with pistols is a kick in itself. They also have an obsession with physical fitness and discipline, especially in training young men and boys. 'Strength through joy means powerlessness through control'. None of this is necessarily anti-social but it didn't need a Sherlock Holmes to find the dangers in this case.
Naziclones usually despise women and often are rapists; they sometimes have sexual relationships with boys or young men whom they can treat as women. But they equally hate homosexuals with consenting sexual urges or loving relationships. Hitler put them in the death camps, didn't he?

The naziclone from Stirling spent his time training youngsters to physical fitness. He spent his hard-earned money photograph-ing young but fit boys in skimpy shorts. He toted as many guns as possible. He was bitter at being excluded from the bonding of the gun clubs, and refused entry into the Scout movement, after paedophiliac allegations which may or may not have been true.Why? They regarded him as a pervert, he protested. He petitioned Her Gracious Majesty but even She did not help her loyal subject. What was left to a naziclone but to act out his fantasies:- stage his own mini-holocaust and exit on a grand scale like the great man himself? And they say they can't understand it!

The debate centres on whether we should restrict gun llicences. It would be better to turn our attention to naziclones and how to restrict them socially.

Hunt Sabbing and the CJA

This article, from Black Flag #208 in mid-1995, was one of a series looking at the impact of the Criminal Justice Act, which aimed to criminalise the activities of hunt saboteurs, amongst others.

The Criminal Justice Act was introduced by a desperate Home Secretary, Michael Howard, to regain some popularity by attacking those the Tories believe were the scum of society - those who lived outside their property-based society. So travellers, squatters and hunt saboteurs became the focus of the rampant, union-jack waving, blue-rinse loyalists at the 1994 Conservative Party Conference.

Unfortunately for the 'get orf moi land' brigade, Mr Howard hadn't consulted the police about his pronouncements and that is where his trouble started. The police cope (or don't) with many public order activities - demos, football matches, and the like - which all have one thing in common. They are basically static, or at least those to be herded walk willingly and sheep-like in one direction at a time. In order to stop hunt saboteurs, the police have to catch them when they are on land they are banned from, and on which they are disrupting a lawful activity. Above all, they have to catch them...

So whilst ten coppers can easily police a demonstration of 100 or a football crowd of 1,000, in order to stop a hunt sabotage they effectively have to match the protesters one for one - and pursue them across often rugged terrain for several miles, then cart them back to waiting police vehicles which also have to be staffed, so that the remaining hunt sab in the bushes doesn't simply pop up at the opportune moment and let their mates out. Now if only twenty sabs in thirty hunt sab groups attack thirty hunts across the country each Saturday, you can quickly count the number of police needed - at the same time that they are supposed to be covering the major sporting events, prime time shopping, etc. The result over the past two hunting seasons has been that, in many areas, the police have simply allowed the sabs to get on with their peaceful disruption. And arrests for 'aggravated trespass' have often led to acquittals or charges being dropped before they reach court.

Where saboteurs have been arrested - on occasion at the start of the day before they have even reached the hunt - and later acquitted or having had the charges dropped, they have been quick to sue the police for wrongful arrest. This has funded sab vans and on one occasion a holiday to Tunisia at the expense of police forces in particular the Thames Valley. The hunting solicitors are up in arms about this, with Knights of Tunbridge Wells, who have been known to take legal action against people who have merely written to the local press stating that hunting is cruel, demanding an end to legal aid for the sabs in such cases. It appears that wrongful arrest should not be applied to animal campaigners.

According to the Hunt Sabs' magazine 'Howl', police in Norfolk only turned up twice during the first twnety hits of the last season, and even then did nothing to hamper the sabotage of the hunt. But iIn some areas, of course, the police have taken the new laws as a green light to pursue age-old vendettas against the sabs. Hence some sabs are now, as they would have been in feudal times, banned from part of Lincolnshire; following refusal of legal aid, ten sabs from Grimsby fell foul of the Earl of Yarborough of the Brocklesby Foxhounds and signed a lifetime injunction. Others have had bail conditions imposed that they are not allowed in the vicinity of a foxhunt, irrespective of where they live, or their employment, or simply their democratic right to protest. So in addition to the often violent attacks sabs receive at the hands of hunt supporters, paid "stewards" and terriermen (those who follow the hunt to finish off the fox with spade and terrier), they do still come up against the full might of the law in some areas.

In other areas, the police are so impartial and independent that they even attend the hunt ball as guests of the hunt! The policewoman whose sole job is patrolling hunts in the New Forest has not been transferred to another post, despite such antisocial social activity. The efforts of the Forest Filth are not enough for Rabid Roderick, writing in a recent 'Horse & Hounds' magazine, who commented on a recent mass hit, that "During various incidents which took place, the large police presence simply observed as spectators...curiously the number of arrests remained in single fugures and all those arrested were released later without charge...Subject to a few notable exceptions, this inertia among police officers in the hunting field has now reached intolerable proportions." Roderick should raise the matter at the next lodge meeting!

In Essex, however, the situation is different. After nearly a year's delay, last October saw the trials of 31 sabs arrested the previous November during a mass hit on the Essex Foxhounds. The CPS secured just 10 convictions for 'aggravated trespass', with 3 acquittals, 8 charges thrown out of court half way through, and a further 8 not even getting that far. Two more serious charges against the other two were dropped. The trial took place in Chichester, West Sussex, as the prosecution was unable to find a closer bench of magistrates who did not either hunt or have hunting connections. The Essex police have stood out as the main force determined to enforce the CJA, no matter the cost to the public - £40,000 for one day's policing (helicopter included) in the case of the above incident. Appeals and civil actions for wrongful arrest are now in progress.

What has perhaps been surprising is the tenacity of so many hunt sabs in resisting the law (if a pick-axe handle in the face doesn't deter you, I suppose a few days in jail is unlikely to) and the fact that in many areas the police have simply been unable to enforce the law. Of course, some sabs - for many reasons - have dropped out of active sabbing as the law has been tightened. But this has not made them any less committed to campaigning to ban hunting. And, with the majority continuing, the hunting aristocracy who have payrolled the Tory Party for so long are now resenting the ineffectiveness of this particular piece of the Criminal Justice Act. Don't take my word for it - just read the letters pages of the hunting press every week.

Foxhunting may not be the most pressing issue for those of us fighting to change society. But it does represent one of the last feudal activities of an outdated, cruel society that would treat the working class the same way as animals if it could. As Auberon Waugh wrote in the Mail a few years ago, "we should gas the working class like badgers". So, if you want to get actively involved contact: Hunt Saboteurs Association, PO Box 1, Carlton, Nottingham, NG4 2JY or for more information against hunting: League Against Cruel Sports, 83-87 Union Street, London, SE1 1SG

By Dan Carter

Rank and File or Broad Left? (Review)

A review of "Rank and File or Broad Left: Democracy versus Bureaucracy - A short history of the Building Worker Group" by Brian Higgins, from Black Flag magazine.

I feel old, I really do. In February 1986 I quit my job at the start of what turned out to be nine months on the dole, and walked straight onto a picket line. The "Laing's Lockout Committee" dispute remains one of the most significant of the post-Miners' Strike era, full of lessons about the possibility of resistance in the face of the most difficult of conditions and determined of opposition. It is at the centre of this excellent pamphlet. Congratulations to the Colin Roach Centre for publishing this.

The dispute taught me a lot, especially about the power of picketting where there is a history of union organisation, and a memory of solidarity, even though actual organisation has died. In the short term it can galvanise people who've been inactive for years and inspire those with no previous experience of union militancy. In the medium term they need workplace organisation to support them, in the context of wider class consciousness and organisation.

I also learned the need for guerilla tactics, stretching the bosses and their agents - union officials, the courts, police, etc. This spreads the dispute in the face of media blackouts - PR is not an option for workers who fight to win - and gives you a chance. If you stay in the same place, sooner or later pressure to cross picket lines is going to bite. The Old Bill also made up a law that only six pickets were allowed at each gate, derived from TUC/ACAS guidelines, and enforced it through the catch-all "obstructing a police officer" charge.

This is not just about the last of the Rank and File groups initiated by the then International Socialists (now SWP) in the 70's. It analyses of the realities of site and union organisation in construction. As well as being one of the most dangerous industries, where "health & safety" is non-existent unless enforced by militant organisation, this is where the bosses' preference for bogus "self-employment" began and is most blatant. All the rights belong to the boss, all the responsibilities - tax, National Insurance, holiday pay, health & safety - to the "self-employed" worker. The art of making industrial action "secondary", and therefore illegal, has also been perfected here by the use of labour-only sub-contractors, many of them gangsters.

Higgins sets out the need for "United Front Rank and File Organisation" to bring together "revolutionary ... and reformist workers ... by far the majority" around immediate demands, workplace organisation, and a longer term strategy. These are all-industry organisations, with no divisions by political or union affiliation or lack of either. The R&F group "should be the bridge between more popular economic and democratic site issues and the more difficult" political ones.

This is remarkably close to the Industrial Networks which form part of the Solidarity Federation, and is a big improvement on the standard "join the union, then form a rank and file group within it to oppose the officials" line of the left (when they're not cheerleading for those traitors, that is). However, I believe the majority of workers are not actively reformist, but apolitical, and to address ourselves to reformism (ie the left, Blair will reform nothing) is to give it room to manouevre. Where anarcho-syndicalists differ from this approach is not to separate the political from the economic by assuming the need to tone down politics in order to form a "united front" with reformists.

He goes on to outline the origins of the BWG and its split with the SWP in 1981/82 having developed a life of its own and outgrown the SWP's politics. As a former member of both the BWG and the anarcho-syndicalist Direct Action Movement once put it, "without subordination to a strong working class organisation, the middle classes are only capable of achieving party consciousness".

As well as the Laing's story, the violence inflicted on union militants by gangster subbies and the state is highlighted, as is the corruption and collaboration of the unions, particularly UCATT - names are named. The pamphlet also covers the decline of the Construction Safety Campaign into a "credibility" device for corrupt union official Tony O'Brien and his cheerleaders in the Workers' Revolutionary Party and SWP, as well as our old friends the Stalinists. Critiques of both the Joint Sites organisation in 1992, and the Offshore Industry Liaison Committee - unofficial union organisations - round off the pamphlet. Buy it, read it, learn the lessons in it.

[i]Peter Principle[/i]
[i](Taken from BF#208)[/i]
[i]Produced and Published by the Colin Roach Centre/Resistance £1.50. Available from 2 Bitten Court, Lumbertubs, Northampton
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