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Rise of the punk food bandita

This is the post excerpt.

This is my blog. I’m new to this, so bear with me. My idea for a blog called punk food Bandita came several years ago but it’s only just now it’s come to fruition. Being an outspoken and excitable young (*cough*) bandita, I’ve exhausted my wonderful friends with my patter and felt now was the right time to unleash myself on the internet instead.

Things I will crap on to you about are mainly politics and people- I describe myself as an anarchist and I like to write about it. Food- I wouldn’t say I’m a particularly skilled cook but I am interested in trying new things, cooking on a budget, and I’m passionate about the politics of food and believe that feeding others can be a revolutionary act.

I love music too, and will include a song at the end of each blog that ties in with the theme in some way. As you’ve probably guessed, punk is my favourite genre to listen to- particularly when I’m cooking, but I listen to a whole mess of other types of music, so if you have something you think I’ll like, hook a sister up.

We live in challenging times, so let’s discuss and organise and do everything we can to make it that little bit better….

Alice

The Electoral Prole

It’s a bit of a contentious issue among the population, is voting.

Some deliberately and militantly abstain. Me, I’m an anarchist who has both purposefully abstained and voted before, and a small number of my mates with a range of opinions on the subject are too. But let’s face it most of the people who will not be voting in this election would never identify themselves as such. Even at the last General Election in 2017 which had higher numbers than the previous two, there was still just an overall 69% turnout, with some constituencies being as low as 53.5%.

So why don’t they use their vote ? Lots of reasons, most of them perfectly valid. For many it’s simply because they are poor. If you think the days when the only citizens deemed worthy of voting were the rich, then look again. People don’t like to be on the electoral register when they are in debt as it can be used to trace them. Photo ID has suddenly and very deliberately been introduced by the Tories just in time for this election, despite no evidence that it prevents electoral fraud, and the concern is that this will prevent people from further being able to attend the polls. Across the Atlantic, the Republicans pulled a similar stunt last year by bringing in even more rigid measures which required any ID used to contain a residential address- a huge problem for rural First Nations citizens, many of who rely on PO Boxes for mail which isn’t being accepted at the poll stations. Others are just so completely disengaged with politics that they make no connection between why their lives are so hard.

But I saw something the other day that made me realise that people not voting is particularly helping the Conservative Party at the minute. Don’t believe me, listen to MP Tobias Ellwood last week talking about why the Conservatives will not be allowing 16-17 year olds to vote. He doesn’t even hide it. He literally says that they won’t allow a large section of the population- who they are happy to take tax from- to vote because they know they will lose power. If that does not teach you that they love it when we don’t vote because it actively enables them, I don’t know what will. Yes, it’s wrong and it absolutely must change but this is what we have in the here and now whether we accept that or not.

I get it. I’ve switched the channel over before because I just can’t bear the white noise of the absolute garbage that they spout. I’ve swore blind I will not go to the ballot because I don’t trust a single one of them. I’m not fluent in jargon and spin and just don’t know what the very fuck they are going on about half the time. With everyone suddenly talking like some learned political scientist in Brexit discussions, I’ve had to ask my friends to explain it to me slowly, like they were trying to teach a toddler about complex bureaucratic and economic structures.

I don’t like participating in a political system that I’ve been forced to grow up in and that has always felt profoundly unnatural to me. Playing their game- so to speak- doesn’t fit with who I am, my identity and core beliefs. I still believe Emma Goldman when she said “if voting changed anything they’d make it illegal”. A change of government isn’t going to destroy capitalism and it would be naïve to think it would.

But I didn’t realise until recently that they rigged the game so they get even bigger prizes when we refuse to play.

So I am voting, because most our citizens are too exhausted and gaslighted to take to the streets and drag them out of Westminster right now.

I’m voting because I cannot tolerate my mam being forced into another benefits medical assessment by someone entirely unqualified, where she will be deemed fit to work, then tortured as she is forced to type with deformed hands at mandatory computer courses, despite a doctor’s note explicitly telling them she should not use keyboards. I’m terrified I will find her dead from her chronic respiratory condition because her gas ran out and she was too proud to tell me so I could put something on the meter.

I’m voting because I cannot bear the shame and guilt of looking one of my service users in the eyes again and watching them fill up as I tell them there isn’t a refuge in the whole of the country for them and their bairns to escape their abuser.

I’m voting because I don’t want any more people to die because they were saving that last bit of their inhaler “for absolute emergencies”.

I’m voting because I can’t pretend the NHS isn’t being privatised and I’m listening to the people who have been fighting for this for years. Activist doctors and nurses who are showing me the evidence that plans are already in place to force an American style health insurance system on us and I know what the consequences of that are for everyone. Because I know what my fellow neuro patients across the pond are paying for the MRI’s and EEG’s I’ve been receiving over the years, regardless of whether they have insurance or not.

I’m voting because I work in an area where I’m dealing with little kids who still believe in Santa being picked up by the police for removing food from supermarket shelves to feed their even younger, hungry siblings.

Voting is certainly not the only thing I am doing to try and bring about these changes- I’m too distrustful of anyone who chooses politics as a career to rely on that alone- but I will use it now I am in a position that I can do so.

One of the things I hear most is “where is the evidence that a Labour or any other government has made any real change for the working class”. You’re right in thinking that in most of our lifetimes, there isn’t any. But speak to someone who grew up in the 20’s and 30’s who tell of life before social housing and the NHS. Tales of multiple kids in one family dying in the space of a few years because they couldn’t afford a doctor. Thirteen people sleeping in one room, covered in lice. This was normal working class life back then and if you speak to anyone working in a field where they encounter child poverty today, it is not an overreaction to think we could see those days again. Those things developed because working class people were within the movements and the politics of the time, not simply obeying them. They developed because that same working class were changed from war and they weren’t going back to the slums when they had already proved to themselves and the state that they knew how to bring down a regime.

We will never put all of our faith in one man or one government. No politician should be subject to anything other than absolute scrutiny. Everyone is accountable at all times. I don’t believe a Corbyn led Labour government will solve all our problems nor do I think he is any kind of messiah or above criticism- and I certainly won’t be putting my boots up if Labour win in the belief that our work is done.

Voting isn’t an alternative to organising ourselves, direct action and a DIY ethos. It’s just one of many tactics that I’m prepared to use if necessary. Because the system relies on the masses to conform to it, but not to engage with it, and it starts to become very anxious when they do.

If I only vote in only one General Election it will be this one. Will I fall out with those who won’t because of their politics? No, in the same way I wouldn’t with abstainers who don’t because they can’t risk the bailiffs kicking down their door the minute they sign up, or are worried it will help an abusive ex partner find them. It’s not okay to vilify people for not voting as the reasons are often complex and personal, and it isn’t okay to tell people that “they deserve what they get” for abstaining, as I have seen people do in the past. But similarly, I’ll no longer allow anyone to try and shame me for doing so. You still have my love and respect and I see you for the work that you do and the love that you bring in to your communities, never tiring for a moment. We will still always need that fire in the world and never think for one moment that we are not fighting the same battle, because while this discussion will come up time and time again with us, we cannot let it become a divide.

But if you are in a position to vote, I would ask that you at least just consider what I’ve said, if only for a moment. There is no such thing as selling out when you are still so fierce in your resistance and it’s not a completely stupid idea to pull out one extra card on them that they don’t expect. It’s an unusual situation we are in right now where we cant say there is no difference between the two main party leaders. We can kick Tories out of office by placing one letter in a box, and if you don’t think that won’t bring at least some respite for the people who are taking the force of the blow of austerity measures, then you are looking in the wrong places. We use our real energies for continuing to build the world we dream of when we close our eyes.

Killing Joke- Another Bloody Election

The secret anarchist history of Halloween (kind of)

Halloween, 1995. I stood before the Witch-finder General, tried as a sorceress, accused of poisoning a good, learned christian man with my evil potions. Well, not quite. I stood in the Deputy Headmaster’s office, accused of pissing in my history teacher’s milk bottles.

I didn’t do it, as it happens. I hadn’t even been with the kids who did. I had, however, childishly cocooned his car in silly string earlier in the night and had been recognised by one of his neighbours. The milk bottle pisser arrived some hours after us apparently (I’ll not mention his name, as I’m no grass), but I didn’t know this at the time, and instead I’d churlishly demanded the deputy headmaster tell me how he thought I, a fifteen year old girl, could have neatly peed in a milk bottle without a funnel of some kind.

But I digress, sort of. The point is, why were multiple groups of kids from a small village, making the trouble to go to a local teacher’s house to play inane pranks, seemingly unconnected, all on the same night (before you feel too sorry for him, the same teacher would years later end up on the sex offenders register after being caught with thousands of indecent images of children on his computer following an FBI sting. In hindsight, I wish I’d set his car on fire)?

The reason for it was, it was Mischief Night. Mischief night, Devil’s night, it is known by many names, with different variations on its origins. Depending on who you ask, it is typically the night before Halloween and for us, like many others, was a night to go out and cause multiple, but generally harmless havoc.

It’s an old practice, which has in the past left authorities running so scared that they’ve imposed heavy sanctions on participants and tried to erase it altogether. In the United States from the 19th century, particularly in deprived urban areas, it was seen to get so out of hand, with kids targeting property and adults by means of window smashing and defacing the homes of local authority figures, that police and governments took bizarre steps in order to try and dispel youth dissent. In 1923 Omah, Nebraska, police took the tactic of turning youth against each other by taking 500 of what were considered to be the worst of the boys and appointing them “special policemen” encouraged to inform on others. In Toronto 1945 there was a full scale children’s riot on Halloween as both young boys and girls set fires and attacked the mounted police who tried to disperse them, then arrived in their thousands to free the 13 kids who were arrested, resulting in the police using tear gas and water cannons on them. So bad was the problem that Chicago City Council voted to abolish Halloween in 1942 to little success and in 1950, President Truman tried to appropriate it into ‘Youth Honor Day’ in a bid to re-market it into something they hoped would restore ‘morality’ into adolescents.

The tactic of appropriating noted days of the people that were seen to be subversive or threatening to their control of the masses, and replaced with either religious or national days designed to acquire conformity is thousands of years old. Trick or treating as we know it today developed in America, but it’s origins go much further back, some believe even as far back as ancient Greece when children would dress as swallows and sing for food and threatening mischief if they were refused. The pagans believed that Samhain was the time of year the veil between this world and the next was thinnest, and that fairies and ghosts would walk the earth, which could only be appeased by offerings of food and drink, and it is thought that Halloween costumes could have evolved from this, where people would dress up as spirits to receive these offerings.Christianity changed these customs, though the idea was still the same. From the 15th century the poor would visit house to house asking for soul cakes. The practise of guising in Scotland was similar, where young people would visit houses with painted faces, reciting rhymes and asking for food, and promising misfortune if they were refused.

There are also several little talked about, yet significant events in anarchist history that happen to have occurred on Halloween.

On 31st October 1870, revolutionary groups and demonstrators, including anarchist Louise Michel demonstrated outside Hotel de Ville against General Trochu and the government, demanding his resignation and proclamation of the Paris Commune. Many of the protesters were armed and shots were fired, narrowly missing the General.

Then in 1894, The trial of the thirty finally ended in Paris, where the case of 30 French and international alleged anarchists was heard on a charge of association de malfaiteurs- criminal association, which followed months pf police raids, searches and arrests aimed at extinguishing the anarchist movement and restricting freedom of the press. The trial descended into farce as the prosecutors struggled to define what criminal association was actually meant to be. When Félix Fénéon, a Parisian art critic and ‘active anarchist’ according to the police was accused of “surrounding” himself with two other suspects, he replied;

“One can hardly be surrounded by two persons. You need at least three”

The prosecutor continued with his cross examination, inferring that he had been “seen conferring with them behind a lamppost.

Fénéon, unfazed, retorted; “A lamppost is round. Can your honour tell me where behind a lamppost is”, leading to such laughter from the courthouse that the Judge had to call for order.

All of the anarchist defendants were acquitted, with three others being convicted.

In 1922, Italy, fascist blackshirts attacked the offices of anarchist newspaper Umanità Nova, days after Mussolini came to power. Despite all of their premises and equipment being destroyed, its makers fought on, managing to get one more edition printed in secret on November 22nd before it closed completely, then later reborn in Brooklyn, USA.

Staying with Italy, again on Halloween 1926 a young anarchist named Anteo Zamboni was killed when he made an assassination attempt on Mussolini at a parade. He fired at the dictator and missed, where he was lynched by a group of fascists. He was just 15 years old.

There’s likely a book full of other stories, ones we don’t know about, little tales of rebellion both big and small that became ghosts in a land of forgotten things. But we can be sure, in these times, there will be many more to come and there is something about this season that brings it out of us more. Maybe it’s the mysterious masks. Maybe it’s the falling of the leaves that makes us crave changes and discard the things in our lives that are no longer good for us. Whatever the reason, it will remain my favourite time of year full of magic, transformation and mischief.

So be sure to mask up kids, lest you end up in the Deputy Headmaster’s office on false urination charges and remember:

Resistance is enchanting.

Have a bewitching rainy Sunday with one of my favourite bands: https://youtu.be/saZN_0nUiV8

A head full of thunder and lightning- an epileptic’s guide to mental health.

It’s World Mental Health Day. We all have our own stories with it. Like the common cold, mental ill health is something I think most of us have personal experience of at some point, with a wide range of reasons, symptoms and recovery rates. Our story may be composed of personal tragedy, trauma, illness, addiction, poverty- perhaps all of these and more- but all will be different in their own complicated ways.

I have epilepsy. It has its challenges as you can imagine, and my mental health has fluctuated more than the value of bitcoin over the years. While the reasons for that are complex and certainly not solely down to epilepsy, it has definitely factored itself in over the years. There’s the pure, isolating fear of when or what will happen during the next one. Will you wee yourself, flash your arse or catapult out of a rocking chair… again? Will you lose a tooth, break your neck or get robbed…. again? Will people laugh at you? Will you wake up this time? Because although you try to keep that one at the very back of your mind, people seem to think it is perfectly acceptable, even if they’ve just met you, when finding out you have epilepsy insist on telling you all about their mate’s cousin who had a fit in the bath once and died.

I mean seriously people, what the fuck is with that? Do all of you really have a friend who has a cousin who drowned in the bath from having a seizure? Regardless, what has possessed you to think that is something I need to hear? I have my own stories of near misses , cheers, and would rather not be told of the poor bastard who never made it.

I don’t know if the rest of my fellow epileptics would agree here, but one thing I’ve found is doctors love epilepsy. They love it. Or specifically they love linking absolutely anything and everything to it, even when you’re just in for a regular GP appointment, which can make it really hard to get the right treatment. Depression? Dr: It’s probably your epilepsy. Psychosis? Dr: It might be your epilepsy, but imma sit with my hand hovering over the panic button under my desk just in case. A bit fat? Period pain? Dr: Hey, do you think it might be linked to epilepsy?

The thing is though, so little is known about the condition or about the human brain in general, that is genuinely almost impossible to disprove that it isn’t. Epilepsy can mimic mental health symptoms and it can also be affected by a number of things, including stress and diet.

While I doubt Socrates or Joy Division’s Ian Curtis were ever asked if their period pain might be a form of epilepsy, it certainly does present challenges with our mental health. For Curtis, who’s seizures would frequently occur on stage, this is definitely evident in his lyrics as he wrote extensively about his condition and others. The song ‘She’s lost control’ – a song that gave me a morbid sense of comfort when I was a teenager- was written about a young woman with epilepsy who he knew from Macclesfield Occupational Rehabilitation Centre who died from the condition.

Medications too, can affect our wellbeing. They might stop our seizures, but as many are also tranquillisers and anti-psychotics, they literally fuck with our heads.

Sometimes I have absence seizures, which can often look like daydreaming. Sometimes I may move slowly with my arms in the air and eyes up, which is how goths dance usually anyway, but after going to see Joker on Sunday night, it’s making me anxious that people will think I’m about to exact my revenge on the City of Gotham.

In the middle of writing this, I got up to make a drink in the office and seemingly decided to tip the rest of my glass of water over myself in front of a perplexed agency staff member who isn’t aware of my neurological status. During these times I’ll feel like I’m sleepwalking, an astral part of me suddenly transported to a strange Other Realm while the rest of me remains present in the real world, dangling somewhere between consciousness and dreaming and being a bit vague and moody about it. Basically I’m Bran Stark, without designs on taking the throne and better taste in music.

Whatever compounding circumstances make up your mental health status, be sure you can find solidarity somewhere, no matter how lonely and desolate your situation seems. Reach out where you can, and take comfort from where you can.

I feel relatively safe these days. Just. Both from my mental health and from epilepsy, but that hasn’t always been the case. If we meet, you can help just by not looking terrified every time I make a sudden movement or gaze out the window. Don’t mention baths and for fucks sake learn the names of some other famous epileptics, because the next one of you that says “Ooh, you’re just like Katie Hopkins” is getting brayed.

Honestly, I’d prefer Caligula.

Here’s a great band to see us off.

The State Of The Union

Unions and the struggles of workers around the world are the reason some of us have any rights at all in the workplace. Employment laws have been fought for by the literal blood, sweat and tears of activists around the world, with significant victories. Despite this union membership numbers declined significantly in the last two decades here in the UK- however  statistics are now showing some signs that this may just be about to change.

Last year union membership rose by 103,000 overall which followed an increase the previous year as well.  The figures are bittersweet, however. While female membership of unions has risen to 26.2%, male membership has fallen to 20.7%. There are also large generational gaps between union members too. 40% of workers who are part of a union are aged over 50 while just  4.4% are aged 16 to 24.

There are many reasons why this may be.  Many young people do not know what the role of a union is or how they are relevant to them. Schools do not teach of the victories of unions and workers struggles. While union membership was almost standard few decades back, many young people have not grown up in a household where a parent or guardian was a member of one. With many young people on extremely low wages or zero hours contracts and without good working knowledge of unions, it is easy to see why they might see union dues as an unnecessary luxury.

There is also a huge gap in membership between those in the public and private sectors, with those in the latter having decreased by 47,000 in numbers- a huge concern, but of no surprise when we look at the lengths large corporations are going to in order to prevent their employees from unionising. Many people are also worried that joining a union will get them into trouble or cause them to lose their job and their fears are certainly not unfounded.

In August this year, Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy openly threatened to fire any employee in the company who tried to unionise. In a blog post which resurfaced from 2015 he wrote: “I can’t tell you how much I want them to unionise. Just so I can smash their little union to smithereens”. When Rafi Letzer, a union advocate and writer at Live Science vowed to support Barstool Sports employees in forming a union following this, Portnoy responded with another tweet that said “If you work for Barstool Sports and DM this man, I will fire you on the spot” before threatening to sue any unionising workers for “damages and back wages”. 

He is now under investigation from the National Labor Relations board as it is written in US law that workers have a right to join a union and that preventing them from doing so is a criminal offence, as it is in the UK. This doesn’t seem to faze Portnoy much though, who tweeted “So are they suing for a heartfelt apology? Is that what I really just read? How about this? Go fuck yourself. Case dismissed”.

But even bigger companies than Barstool Sports have come under scrutiny regarding their behaviour towards unions and employees attempting to organise. In 2017, the United Auto Workers (UAW) filed an official complaint against Tesla, stating that the company fired staff who were attempting to form a union, something strenuously denied by Tesla and SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk.  However his disdain of unions isn’t exactly concealed. While he claims to be neutral on them, he has repeatedly stated that there is no need for his workers to unionise when they already have healthcare and had a “good safety record”, and he has even gone so far to try and blame the UAW for destroying the auto industry in the US.

For the record, Tesla’s safety record isn’t great at all. At their Fremont, California plant there have been twenty four investigations into factory safety, and between 2014 and 2018 they received fines for 54 violations at that plant alone. Accidents have included severed fingers, a pelvic bone fracture and a severe back injury caused by a rear hatch door dropping onto an employee who later stated he did not get adequate medical care by Tesla’s contracted clinic. When questioned about their safety record, Tesla’s vice president for environmental health and safety said “ The most important metric is fatalities, and our number is zero”. So basically, the standard is that as long as no one actually dies on the job, they’re good.

One former worker, Dezzimond Vaughan claimed he discovered that his job was on the line when Tesla somehow found out he was having meetings at his home to try and form a union. Vaughan was eventually fired following two supposed poor employee performance reviews, which had the review scores changed by upper management after they were completed. The  original, positive comments written about him and his work were still visible on the report.

Musk has also accused another former factory worker who highlighted several safety issues within Tesla of being a Union plant. He also bizarrely promised frozen yogurt to employees in a letter asking them to inform them of any unionisation efforts within the company. Around about the same time as this, an employee named Michael Sanchez was made to leave company property by Tesla security after handing out pro union fliers outside the factory to his colleagues.

Walmart too, have recently come under the radar,  when in July 2019 a pro union employee was fired after they posted an internal policy memo on reddit that introduced new measures which really just entailed a plan to reduce the number of managers and forcing more responsibilities on frontline workers for no extra reward. The result of this was that Walmart’s subreddit was then flooded with pro union memes in solidarity with the sacked worker who believes that Walmart corporate was monitoring their original subreddit.

Then there is the ongoing revelations about Amazon. Earlier this year, Amazon were accused of trying to dissolve its employees unionisation efforts after a leaked training video for managers emerged, with instructions on spotting union activity containing tips such as “make it a point to regularly talk to associates in the break room. This will help protect you from accusations that you were only in the break room to spy on pro-union associates”.

As part of management recruitment, Amazon also specify they want their potential managers to have significant experience in handling union organising operations and responding to union activity.

After such negative press, Amazon then made some excruciatingly awkward efforts to improve their brand reputation. They introduced  ‘Amazon Fulfillment (FC) Center Ambassadors’ which if you saw the tweets, could only be described as being witness to corporate Stockholm syndrome.

The Amazon FC ambassador accounts began to appear and flood social media with robotic sounding responses about what a great place Amazon was to work. Some of the accounts were specifically anti-union, branding unions as “thieves” and stuck rigidly to a script from which they refused to deviate when other service users who engaged with them tried to bring up certain topics.

Like Tesla, Amazon claim unions are not required as their organisation is such a good one. But on Prime Day in July this year, Amazon workers organised a strike in response to pay and conditions. Because again, like Tesla, there have been serious concerns about the safety of Amazon employees. Last year, Amazon employees in the UK were reported to be urinating in bottles or missing toilet breaks altogether in order to meet arduous daily targets, and in a survey carried out by Organise, 80% of its workers stated they would never return to the organisation if they found another job. This followed an undercover investigation by a reporter from The Mirror who infiltrated an Amazon warehouse in 2017. There they found employees having to walk up to a third of a mile to go to the toilet, and reported that some staff had to be attended by ambulance crews due to exhaustion or accidents from the long, gruelling hours and compulsory overtime.

Seven former workers have also claimed they were fired due to pregnancy when they asked for more bathroom breaks and less hours on their feet.

It’s certaintly not just large corporate giants like Amazon, Walmart and Tesla that need unions. There are plenty of stories within organisations like the NHS and charity sector- organisations seen by the public as ‘caring’- that are rife with tales of poor treatment of their employees. Disciplinaries where workers are demonstrably unwell, combined with constant harassment from HR are almost standard in today’s workforce.

And here lies one of the major problems, particular when it comes to our younger workforce. There is a danger that we are beginning to be conditioned into accepting that low wages, poor conditions and corporate harassment as simply a part of working life. If your boss or company is anti-union, that is the biggest indicator that you are probably going to be most in need of one.

Because they are as relevant now as when they first formed, regardless of how you feel you are treated at work. I’m lucky, in that my boss is approachable, fair and has acted appropriately with regards to a recent health issue I have had. And I’m still part of a union- well two actually- and I’m happy to pay my dues. Why? Because things can always change and while things are going well for me personally, it might not always be the case. Either for me, or other colleagues, or for workers from entirely different organisations who it is important to show solidarity with. An injury to one is an injury to all, as the Industrial Workers of the World say.

Know your history. Every right we have as workers was fought for by workers before us and by unions. They were not given to us out of the goodness of a bosses heart, as they will claim, and we are in stark danger of losing these. Because there is an apathy, an assumption, that once we have won a battle, the reward can never be taken away from us,  that our rights then become carved in stone. But while oppressive state structures are in place, the struggle will always be there, and they will always test how much we will endure.

On May 4th, 1886, Chicago, what became known as the Haymarket Massacre took place, and preceded one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in American history as four anarchist labor activists were hanged in response. Around this time, many immigrant adults and children were working in factories for 60 hours a week for $1.50 an day. Unions were calling for safer conditions and less hours- “8 hours a day, with no cut in pay”- across the US. The rally in Haymarket Square was organised by August Spies, editor of the anarchist publication, Workers Times. The day before the rally, police had opened fire on workers striking at Chicago McCormick Company plant, killing two of them. During the gathering, police moved forward trying to shut down one of the speakers. At this point a stick of dynamite exploded, killing the officers it landed near and injuring others. To this day it is unknown who threw the explosive, but one thing that is clear was it was not any of the men who were executed for it: August Spies, Adolph Fischer,  George Engel and Albert Parsons. Another man, Louis Lingg, committed suicide in prison and another two were eventually pardoned for a crime they had no knowledge would even take place.

But from this outrage and the corrupt trial that the activists endured, came change. Support for the Knights Of Labor, fighting for the 8 hour day grew to 700,000 in number. The public holiday that we now call May Day sprang from this event, but very few people seem to know this. Around the world we still have small children in factories. We still have people being killed for trying to unionise, and it’s not an exaggeration to say there is safety in numbers. In 2001 Coca Cola were accused of hiring paramilitary groups to murder workers  after nine union members were murdered at bottling plants in Colombia over 13 years. Columbia has by far the largest number of union killings, with what is thought to be around 3800 trade unionists killed between 1986 and 2010.

Unions are not just about supporting workers’ rights within organisations. The power of unions can and should be used to show solidarity and praxis to oppressed people around the world. In 1974 a small group of Scottish Rolls Royce workers and trade unionists at the East Kilbride factory refused to repair jet engines for Pinochet’s regime, who were killing civilians following the coup and murder of socialist Prime Minister Salvador Allende. Chilean filmmaker Felipe Bustos Sierra, whose father was an exile living in Belgium, lovingly retells the story in his documentary ‘Nae Paseran’ after he grew up on stories of the workers act of solidarity that had no idea how much it meant to the political prisoners and refugees they protected. More recently around 500 workers at Boston based furniture company Wayfair organised themselves to walk out after they discovered Wayfair had a contract with detention centres on the Southern border in the US, where there have been reports of horrifying conditions and deaths of immigrant children detained at the border.

Unions are only as strong, as militant or as protective as the people in them. The echoes of Thatcher’s brutality of the unions in the UK is still felt today even by those too young to remember it.

Your unions or any type of organised action you form in the workplace should look like you. They should fight for the things that affect you in your work place. To do that we need to be organised as workers, however we do that. Don’t wait until you are in trouble to do so. Because then you are already vulnerable. We are instilled with a fear that unionising will get us into trouble, but by doing so, we make it harder for them to pick us off. There are many reasons why some feel disillusioned with unions. I spent my early working life not being part of one because the union associated with my organisation at the time supported Tony Blair’s government so I refused to pay dues to them because I believed there were no other options.

Organised workers protect each other and those further afield. Worker solidarity is not just those on the factory or office floor or in the fields. It’s the communities forming soup kitchens to feed the striking miners and their families. It’s the Flint Women’s emergency brigade who protected General Motors strikers from police and used brooms and mops to smash windows to release tear gas and keep people safe.

It’s protecting and fighting alongside indigenous people who are exploited by forced labour practices and have their land taken from them by corporations.  It’s supporting those who are not in employment at all. It’s calling out MP’s giving themselves an 11% pay rise while telling us we are all in this together. It’s not accepting the drudgery of our lives when we are seen only as a commodity, or ever increasing pension ages where they make us work until we drop.

Brands are not people who need our love and loyalty, and celebrity CEO’s are not our friends. Talking to that worker you only ever nod to on site, or other people within your communities, listening to their dreams and their struggles is more radical than we ever realise. Defy any instructions from your employer not to talk to colleagues and resist attempts to divide you. Support striking workers instead of crossing picket lines or grumbling that they caused you an inconvenience as you rant on facebook about how they should all be sacked.

With more of us spending less and less time from our loved ones because of long hours and commutes, we need to be reminded that it doesn’t have to be this way. Those who fought for the 8 hour day were told it would never happen. That authorities would not allow it, and yet we have never needed their permission. Imagine a better life.

For the fireflies.

We are those people. The ones called ‘do-gooders’ in tones of derision who will never understand why our detractors think we should be insulted by this.

The ones who are nurturing hope like little seeds in landscapes we were told nothing could grow.

It’s not uncommon for us to suddenly disable social media accounts and spend time alone to build up our defences back up again after exposing ourselves for too long against cruelty with not enough back up.

We are intense in our desires and our anger. We can be physically or mentally estranged from our families who don’t understand why we will put ourselves in the line of fire even when we know we are outnumbered. Who use every bit of energy we have knowing we will lose, but do it anyway because we know that if we win one heart along the way it was all worth it.

We dream in different colours than most, which we try to paint into our waking landscapes wherever we can. We don’t hate the world or people, though we may say that we do a lot. On the contrary we love them far too much and we absorb their suffering like hot stones.

Because when we love, the air around will crackle and sing, but when we break we shatter like ice under boiling water. I used to call it sensitivity, but this suggests a fragility of some sort and we are anything but fragile. Our inability to turn our heads from horror and take the force of the blow to protect the rest of the world is proof of our strength.

What we are is fireflies, there to illuminate and enchant the dark woods when we are allowed to be free, but attracting the attention of those who are envious of our light and want it for themselves. Who then lock us into jars so that they can own and exploit it and are too stupid and selfish to understand why we then extinguish. Too ignorant to understand that what we have can’t be sold or sanitised because it as wild and as ancient as dust.

So remember, fireflies, that you need to play sometimes. Remember that you need to stay still and sleep sometimes too and that taking as good care of yourself as you do the rest of the world is an act of resistance in itself.

Remember that every jar can be smashed and there are others who would gladly help you do the smashing. That it’s okay to feel overwhelmed sometimes. Remember you already made a difference today by all the other amazing things you did yesterday and the day before that. That your kindness is contagious and that someone’s life became better because of that thing you did or said to them years ago, that thing you probably don’t even recall.

Remember you are still loved and needed, that you are seen by eyes you are too humble to notice.

Remember you are connected to everything on this planet by your love, rage and empathy and because of this, though you may sometimes be solitary, you can never be truly alone.

Idealists foolish enough to throw caution to the winds have advanced Mankind and enriched the world- Emma Goldman

Beautiful freak- Eels

The strange misrepresentation of Chris Packham

Of all the ludicrous things I have seen in the last few weeks, the misrepresentation and vilification of lifelong conservationist and wildlife campaigner Chris Packham has to be among the most bizarre. His detractors and subsequently those who have swallowed their rhetoric have taken to portraying him as some sort of clueless, yogurt weaving hippy, rather than a person with lifelong experience and learning in ecology and conservation. Anyone with any basic knowledge of his career will be aware of how frequently he has clashed with animal lovers over some of his views which he refuses to base on emotion and instead on scientific research.

The way they are trying to present the story is that struggling farmers across the country are being forced to endure the decimation of their crops and now have to serve up their newborn lambs with a sprig of mint as a sacrifice to the insatiable evil crows who peck out their eyes.

I say crows, because despite the new changes naming 16 species of birds, it’s only crows that seem to be brought up in the argument and it is the species that two lunatics chose the leave hanging outside Packham’s home last week in retaliation for his involvement. It’s easy to pick on crows. They’ve long been portrayed as harbingers of doom and bad luck, as minions to something more evil. No one mentions the parakeets on the list. A non native species to this country, because you can guarantee that if someone had left Blu and Jewel dangling outside his house (who absolutely aren’t parakeets but what do facts matter), there’d be a lot more condemnation and probably a fucking candlelit vigil.

But here is the thing, farmers and gamekeepers have not been banned from animal control. What the fuss is about is that general licences have been revoked to curb illegal and unnecessary killing of raptors and other birds and there has been a change to the way licences are issued following a legal challenge by Wild Justice. The group never asked for outright abolition and understand that farmers will need some allowances in order to protect animals and crops.

What those opposed to this are throwing a hissy fit over, is that they’ve been told they haven’t got a free reign to do what the fuck they want anymore and if they have a genuine need to kill any of the listed species they can apply for an individual licence from Natural England, who haven’t handled the organisation of the new legislation particularly well. But the changes themselves are right, even if it’s execution hasn’t been what it should. People can’t just go around killing animals because they don’t like them. Chris Packham became involved, not to spite farmers, but after encountering a man who was shooting crows and magpies for fun, stating they were “vermin”. However, the man didn’t even own a farm or business that could be threatened by the birds.

“Oh but they eat other fluffy baby birds, they kill lambs, they’re so vicious”. The tendency of commenters making crows out to be the Peaky Blinders is utterly bizarre. You’d think they were strutting around forcing protection racket money off the farmers before snorting cocaine from the back of a terrified piglet. There is no nice way of killing animals for food, whether you are a crow or a human, no matter what you tell yourself about our methods being better. Look, the only species that is causing a massive threat to other little animals that you find cuter or more edible is us. Either we are slaughtering them directly for no purpose whatsoever, or we are destroying their habitat and introducing non native species which disrupt the eco system.

Do I support a cull on humans in order to save the rest of the world? No, because I’m not an absolute sociopath who believes that death is the only solution to our problems. That’s what the campaigners are asking for. There are other ways to control animal populations and culling can sometimes make the problem worse, like pigeons who control their own numbers according to the food source. Culling them will cause them to breed more, and will only provide a very short term solution.

The badger cull has also been proven to be scientifically ineffective with no effect on the prevalence of tuberculosis in cattle, yet those who advocate it are still hell bent on their “right” to kill them, even though it will provide no benefit other than to continue their delusion that their problems are down to another species rather than them and stop them looking for better, smarter methods. We are learning all the time that some modern farming methods are no good for us or the health of the land and we need to adapt in order to survive. Chris Packham has been involved with such initiatives before, working with farmers and not against them as they play a vital role for our environment. Many farmers are struggling, and not being given a fair price for their produce and I absolutely think that more support needs to be given to them, as well as us playing our part and rethinking the way we consume. This shouldn’t be about a battle between conservationists and farmers. Let’s face it, farmers supply most of us with the food we can’t be arsed or aren’t capable of producing ourselves and they deserve the care that they give to us.

But there are factions in those ranks that claim to speak for the whole of the countryside who will puff their chests when told they can’t behave in the same mindless way they always have always been allowed to, and the changes won’t make a blind bit of difference to them because they believe they are above the law, the same they have done with fox hunting.

That is why two crows were killed and left outside a conservationists home last week, and if your response to that begins with “yes but well, there’s two sides to the shooting licence debate and look at this picture of this poor lamb with no eyes….” then you have entirely missed the point and are inadvertently condoning shitty human behaviour. Because those birds were not killed because of land management or pest control. They were killed out of pure spite. They were killed to bully, to intimidate, and for fun and that isn’t something we should be saying that the countryside represents.

And to finish on a song as usual, here’s Fuck The Countryside Alliance by Future Of The Left.

Disobedience is not for your convenience.

Extinction Rebellion have been in the headlines almost constantly for the last fortnight. The group, who are demanding that governments across the globe declare a climate emergency before it is too late are using civil disobedience and non violent direct action to disrupt and draw attention, with the aim of getting politicians to take immediate action on the environment. So far we have seen protestors using tactics such as stopping trains, blocking Waterloo bridge and gluing themselves to parliament and the stock exchange.

While the XR activists have gained a lot of support from the public, their actions have also drawn a lot of criticism, the main one I have heard being around them blocking roads and holding up public transport. This is because, they say, that inconveniencing “normal” people trying to go about their day to day lives will only make the public angry and automatically be against their cause. This is from people who I’d consider to be politically and environmentally informed too. Have we really become that self-involved and short sighted that we expect such fundamental change to not interfere with our routine at all ?

I understand some people fear that if they are late for work, there could be repercussions. But ask yourself this: If workers who are late because of disruption from the protests are disciplined so unfairly, is the enemy not their boss and the system that enables them to do that, rather than environmental protesters?

Percy Shelley arguably wrote one of the first calls to non violent direct action in his 1819 poem ‘The Mask Of Anarchy’ in response to his outrage at the Peterloo Massacre in Manchester, when the cavalry charged into a crowd of protesters demanding reform of parliamentary representation. It’s stanza ‘rise like lions from the slumber, in unvanquishable number, shake your chains to earth like dew, which in sleep have fallen on you: ye are many-they are few’ was made popular again when Jeremy Corbyn used it during a speech in 2017 and has since been adapted into a Labour Party slogan: For the many, not the few. The idea is that we interrupt the daily running of business and refusal to comply with certain laws, usually with the absence of aggression, in order to take a moral stance against the unreasonable actions of a government. Nowadays it is used to describe something more proactive than a simple march, but can involve anything from strikes, to refusal to pay taxes, to factory lock outs, road blocks, sabotage and occupying buildings.

But civil disobedience doesn’t even work, I hear you cry. No? It’s the only thing that demonstrably does work. Direct action has given us every civil right we have, they have never been willingly handed to us out of the goodness of the state. From the 8 hour day to the equal pay act after women working as machinists walked out of the factories because their jobs were downgraded to unskilled in 1968.

Martin Luther King was a famous advocate of civil disobedience who defied court orders and legislation he considered to be “unjust law” and said that non co-operation with evil was as important as co-operation with good. Arrest was expected. Resistance to the Nazi’s did not always mean taking up arms against them but passive resistance was still so powerful that those found guilty were imprisoned or killed. Sophie Scholl was murdered by Hitler’s regime for publishing leaflets teaching people how to passively resist, such as deliberately working more slowly in factories that benefited the regime . Similarly, Agnès Humbert, a museum librarian who was an early member of the French Resistance jailed for distributing anti fascist literature and scrawling slogans on banknotes found solace and defiance in small acts of sabotage in the factories she was sent to work as a prisoner, such as interfering with the dangerous rayon they were forced to make. Agnès would tie knots into the rayon, making the spools look normal when they left the factory floor but would make any machine they were put into break down.

Civil disobedience can involve thousands of people- From the singing revolution in the Baltic states between 1987 to 1991 where millions used song and formed human chains against soviet tanks in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania- to just one or two individuals. Last year, Elin Ersson, aged 21, attempted to stop the deportation of an Afghan asylum seeker in Sweden by refusing to sit down on the plane carrying him when asked by cabin crew. She was taken to court and fined 3000 krona. Though the man she tried to save was still sent back, her actions resonated with many around the world.

Occupy ICE was another recent example of civil disobedience in the US, when activists obstructed the path of Immigration and Customs Enforcement office vehicles in protest of the practice of separating immigrant children from their parents and detaining them.

In the UK, Reverend Daniel Woodhouse and Quaker activist Sam Walton were acquitted from court after they broke into the BAE systems factory in Walton with the intention of causing criminal damage to typhoon fighter jets which were bound for Saudi Arabia. Walton said at the time “We really didn’t want to do this. I really did not want to go to prison. But there’s a moment when I saw a picture of a British-made bomb that had been used to kill children. The bomb was made after the war had begun. So we sold it in full knowledge that it would be used on civilian targets. I knew my country was complicit in that”

At the very end of the 19th century and onwards when the women’s suffrage movement began, they tried to forge change by using the system, only to find that the system was not going to allow them to do that. They were banned from attending liberal party meetings and banned from holding their own. They were loud and disruptive and artistically and mischievously obnoxious. One Irish suffragette Mary Maloney (born Dorothy James Malony) followed Winston Churchill around for a week in the 1908 Dundee by-elections ringing a large bell whenever he spoke. Churchill had made insulting remarks about the women’s suffrage movement, describing them as “hornets” and refused to apologise. It worked too, and an exasperated Churchill eventually backed down. An absolute pro at civil disobedience, La Belle Malony, as she was nicknamed after that, also once climbed the Richard the Lionheart statue in Westminster and refused to come down until she had finished her speech on women’s voting rights. Their actions did not make them popular with the public, and it wasn’t supposed to. Deeds, not words. Any support they did get was welcome. But for the most part they did not need your approval and 2019 Mary would undoubtedly be criticised for deplatorming Churchill.

Civil disobedience will not always get support of the public who say they want change but don’t ever want to be personally inconvenienced. Like the suffragettes and those fighting for better working conditions, they often were not appreciated by the public at the time, only being seen as heroes by preceding generations . You only celebrate them now as you benefit for what they fought for and didn’t personally have to see or deal with their disruption at the time.

No movement should be exempt from criticism, ever, and there will never be one that is perfect, which includes Extinction Rebellion. Honestly I have some concerns about some of those who have taken it upon themselves to be facilitators and the kind of information they want from activists and what they expect of them without always getting their own hands dirty. While it’s okay to question tactics or philosophies we find dubious, there does tend to be a sort of sneering at those trying to do something by those who share their concerns, but don’t take action themselves.

The beauty of civil disobedience is that there are an infinite number of ways to do it, and even those in the most oppressive situations have found strength and comfort in resistance, rebellion and sabotage. So maybe the next time we are stuck in traffic temporarily, held up as a colourful parade passes us by, the next time we sit discussing the finer points of political action from the comfort of the pub, we can switch our thoughts from ones of anger. Maybe instead of lamenting about why they should be protesting less inconveniently/more militantly/more passively/about something else entirely we can find our own ways to be resplendently and dutifully disobedient.

A bit of Chumbawumba for today. We still need to fight for a better world. Whether we think we can win or not.