Crime and community

John Shute looks at leftist political group IWCA’s relationship to crime in the communities they serve.

Submitted by libcom on March 4, 2006

Any serious critique of the Independent Working Class Association ought to accept that the fundamental premise of the IWCA is correct. The left has, as they state, abandoned the working class, and any effective resistance to capital can only be established on the basis of rebuilding a militant current within the working class.

Any other strategy will commence from the position of isolation established by the left, and repeat its mistakes. What is necessary is the reforging of a current of working class resistance, which takes as its starting point-given the weakness of the organised working class in the workplace-a community-based politics of, as the IWCA put it, working class rule in working class areas.

In putting this into practice the IWCA have established themselves as credible organisers of resistance to council house sell-offs, disrepair, and council corruption. In the case of north London organiser Gary O ‘Shea this has been at considerable personal cost-being evicted from his home as a result. When it comes though to addressing the issue of working class crime and anti-social behaviour, the good practice of the IWCA appears to come undone. A focus upon crime and anti-social behaviour – if it is to lead to a rebuilding of working class militancy and self-identity - has to take into account a number of factors. As the IWCA acknowledge any campaign based around such issues has to distance itself from what they call a “cultural witch-hunt of working class youth.” Equally though it has to recognise within what context that witch-hunt is taking place.

One of the hallmarks of the New Labour years has been its re-arming/repositioning of the state in relation to public life - such that the everyday life of the working class is more and more a policed life, with CCTV cameras covering every street, a massive increase in stop and search and personal data collection by the police, the increase of the visible presence of police and Community Support Officers within working class communities, increased criminalisation of personal behaviour, summary justice etc. This has been combined with attacks on the right to dissent and to effective political organisation, through the various Terrorism Acts, and their utilisation in relation to public order.

The end result is that the space for resistance is closed down, and the working class comes to have a relationship with the state which moves from the soft policing of the welfare state of old to a sense of working class space as being in every sense “policed” space.

If the Thatcher years were based on a strategy of breaking the organised working class which had mounted so effective a challenge to capital in the 1960s and 1970s,then New Labour represents stage two of that strategy-the redisciplining of a disorganised, fragmented working class. None of this figures anywhere in the IWCA analysis of working class crime. Neither is there any effective analysis of the root cause of crime within working class communities. Anti-social behaviour is a direct product of the decline of traditions of solidarity and resistance within working class communities.

It is the consequence of atomisation and fragmentation within our communities and as such it can only really be addressed through the repoliticisation of those communities. Organising community resistance to crime cannot be an end in itself-for it to work it has to be a means to the reforging of community self-organisation, around a recognition of working class interests in the widest sense.

There is no point in the self-organisation of working class communities to address issues of anti-social behaviour unless in the process what is also addressed is 1) the need for working class political independence 2) the political necessity of active solidarity within working class communities-as a means of survival for those communities in the face of attacks on rights to benefits, social housing, working hours, wages, health and education etc.

Equally what has to be posed is the question of what working class independence actually means. To provide an example, the campaigns within nationalist communities in the Six Counties over such issues as drugs, anti-social behaviour, touting, benefits snoopers etc have focused both on direct action as a solution to working class problems, and the illegitimacy of the state as a policing force within working class communities.

This second element is crucial, otherwise community groups become not counter-forces in opposition to the state but a supplementary volunteer force for the state. In relation to crime in working class communities, the state couldn’t give a toss. The strategy of the state in relation to crime is to confine it to working class communities –a) so as not to threaten the voters and shopkeepers of Middle England b) to increase the process of atomisation within working class communities. The New Labour strategy in relation to crime might best be identified as “Let the Working Class Eat Itself.” The reason the police are so little concerned about drug dealing and anti social behaviour is because their policing of working class areas isn’t intended to be in the interests of the working class. Aside from the fact that many cops are happy to profit from their own involvement in the local drug trade, the low level war of all against all within our communities is what is supposed to result from Blair’s concerns about anti-social behaviour. Meanwhile the media sells us chav stereotypes to convince us of our own impotence.

In relation to its focus on crime, the IWCA has pursued occasionally very effective community anti-drugs initiatives-pickets of dealers houses, pickets of areas with a high number of muggings and doorstepping those most involved in street crime. In Blackbird Leys,where the IWCA has enjoyed its most visible successes, it has made serious efforts through direct action campaigns to organise the local community to confront heroin and crack dealers and close down local crackhouses. What’s been missing though has been any over-arching political analysis to seek to draw any conclusions from such activity that will foster working class independence. In some cases the IWCA have appeared to act as a pressure group on the Thames Valley police instead of a working class alternative to it.

In relation to the Blackbird Leys community centre bar, the IWCA have called for the licensees to be stripped of their licence on the basis of rumours of “Yardie” activity there, despite themselves conceding they have “no evidence of illegal activity on the premises.” In relation to the closure of a crackhouse at 25 Birchfield Close, they have stated that the police have seen the crackhouse as a chance to grab the media spotlight with one big raid, then later conceded that there have been regular police raids on the property. Far from being based on an analysis of the role of the police in relation to the working class, and a strategy for reforging community solidarity in its own interests, against both crime and the state, the IWCA approach turns direct action into a means of pressing the local state to act – a reformist dead-end that has nothing at all to do with the realisation of “working class rule in working class areas.”

As the IWCA councillor Stuart Craft puts it, in their November 2005 bulletin, “One of the purposes of the Blackbird Leys community patrol was to force the police to be accountable and to deal with the problem (drugs and anti-social behaviour.)”

In a community meting with Thames Valley police, Craft states that “Where there is a problem as serious as this resources should be made available. There should be no excuse from the authorities for not taking the necessary action.” (August 2005 bulletin.) So-not only are the police now part of the solution (rather than a means of containing and disciplining the working class) they should be given more resources! All talk of working class independence has been forgotten in favour of a call for the police to do their job properly and for the local state –which you might think would be what the IWCA was committed to organising against- to “take action.”

Thus, the IWCA in Blackbird Leys are reduced to hailing as a victory for working class self-organisation the involvement of the police in funding a local drugs project-Community Action and Development. How the securing of police funding squares with working class rule in working class areas is never explained. If crime is a problem for working class communities, it doesn’t follow that increased policing is the solution. The whole point of working class self-organisation is to address our problems ourselves and to challenge the legitimacy of the state as it acts upon our daily lives. Community resistance has to be posed as an alternative to the state, not a complement to it. The end-goal has to be the repoliticisation of our class around its own interests. Craft-and presumably the IWCA as a whole-would have it otherwise.

Way back in March 2004, Craft wrote that the solution to anti-social behaviour is “increased professional support, improvement in social funding, and a mechanism for dictating what type of behaviour is acceptable and unacceptable …put in place as part of local authorities’ Anti-Social Behaviour Strategy.” Aside from the invitation to the white collar cops to follow on from the boys in blue in policing the working class, the point has to be made that the problem with spending time as a local councillor is that you come to see the local state as part of the solution, not as the problem. Perhaps its time for Stuart Craft to take a rest, before working class rule in working class areas gets reduced to a local authority strategy document, and the IWCA turns into Labour Briefing.