Tag Archives: economic crisis

Wandsworth Against Cuts & Occupy activists defend Battersea adventure playground

This is a collaborative story worked on with those occupying Battersea Park adventure playground. This playground isn’t just any old playground – watch this 10 min film to find out why. Hopefully the collaboration between locals and Occupy activists will work as well here as it has at Friern Barnet library… and will make Wandsworth council see sense and stop the demolition.

UPDATE 5.30pm Mon 7 Jan:

The defenders of Battersea adventure playground have been told that demolition will begin next Monday. Occupiers are remaining in situ; a small camp (maximum 15 residents) has been set up inside the playground, with supporters visiting during the day.

Within the last hour police appeared to be chaining up the entrances to the playground, stating that anyone who left would not be able to return. This would have cut off Occupiers from toilets and food supplies. Protesters reminded officers that this is a lawful protest and campaigners report that the police then “backed off.”

Police have, however, closed the neighbouring and active young children’s playground, stating that the banners – some of which the children themselves made – would frighten playground users.  The information table set up by Wandsworth Against Cuts is being cited as a hazard.

K, currently at the Occupy camp inside the playground, asks: “Is this Wandsworth council trying to quash popular support? I saw these tactics used in the Goldsmiths’ occupation a couple of years ago.  The university shut the library during an exam period, claiming that we made such a mess the place was unusable – essentially turning people against us.”

It seems that as yet local people are behind the occupation as they want to save the playground and have run out of other ways to convince Wandsworth council to rethink. According to one occupier at the site: “Parents have ignored the chains on the little kids’ play area, lifting their children over to let them play.”

Original Story

Members of the Occupy community and local anti-cuts activists occupied the Battersea Park Adventure Playground on Saturday 5 January, in protest at Wandsworth council’s decision to have a unique children’s facility demolished. The action was taken in support of local groups who have been working to save the playground for months. Bulldozers are due on the site on Monday 7 Jan.

Local resident Michael McCarthy said: “I think it’s terrible. I brought my daughter here today to see for myself what is happening. I think it’s great someone is fighting these cuts. Where are the kids going to go? There is nowhere else.”

Qualified staff at this popular and historic playground have provided a stimulating and safe environment for thousands of children for decades. The playground staff have helped teenagers from the local area, including the large Doddington, Ethelburga and Surrey Lane Estates, to grow up free from gang and drug related pressures. They have organised cultural, social and educational activities which have helped young people develop confidence and independence. The older kids have helped to build the playground, learning useful skills and enjoying a sense of achievement and ownership through doing so.

In recent months staff have been laid off and the playground has been closed, as unsupervised use is considered dangerous. The council’s plan is to extend the adjacent, conventional playground into the adventure play area and convert it to a static, unstaffed facility. This will only be suitable for younger children, supervised by parents. Campaigners report seeing council factsheets showing that the cost of staffing playgrounds in Wandsworth is only £2 per household per year. Those occupying the play area call on Wandsworth council to reverse the decisions to get rid of play staff and to destroy the adventure playground.

Norman MacLean of Wandsworth Against Cuts (WAC) said “Please support this occupation by visiting the playground, bringing food and other supplies and, if possible, by joining us in defending this vital community resource.”

Location: Battersea Park, SouthWest corner near junction of Albert Bridge Road and Prince of Wales Drive. SW11 4SF

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The People’s Library

I helped the folks at the Friern Barnet Occupied Library (aka the People’s Library) write the following press release.

If anyone can help us get word out, the librarians would be delighted 🙂

Even if this library is evicted, the  story could help inspire others to fight back when their local services are cut, when big business takes precedence over local needs and wishes, and when councils forget that their mandate is to serve local people and communities.

ShiftHistoric library

Some fantastic pics of ‘Earth Circus’ at the Occupied Library last night.

Supporters of Friern Barnet People’s Library in Barnet, North London, are to return to court at 09:30 on Monday 17 December as Barnet council seeks possession of the building and the surrounding green land. [1]

“Join us in Barnet and show Barnet council that libraries and communities matter more than profits for big business.

Friern Barnet library closed in April despite the protests of local residents. The sudden closure was seen as part of Barnet council’s plan to outsource public services in the borough, and to profit from the sale of the property.

In September the library was re-opened by the Occupy movement, local people and experienced librarians in protest at the library’s closure and to provide a programme of community events as well as essential library services. 8000 donated books line shelves that were cleared by the council. The ‘People’s Library’ project is a protest and an emergency service; volunteers do not see it as a longterm solution and are united in calling for the re-institution of a publically-funded, professionally-run library at the Friern Barnet site.

Barnet community galvanised
Sinead Burke, a drama teacher resident in Barnet, volunteered to run baby and toddler sessions at the library. She explained “I chose to offer my time to run this as I attended ‘Rhyme Time’ sessions at the library when it was council-run […] I am disgusted that taxpayers will no longer have access to activities for their children in Friern Barnet and commend those who are working so hard to save our library”.

Local architect Maria Persak-Enefer applied to have the Friern Barnet library building recognised for its “significant contribution to the borough’s heritage and character”. On 10 December confirmation was received that the library will be added to the Schedule of Buildings of Local Architectural or Historic Interest and the Register of Assets of Community Value. Although these listings will not prevent sale of the building, they may restrict development. [2]

Investment in jobs, alternatives to austerity, and making the shift to renewable energy sources were hot topics at ‘Shift: an economy for the 99%’, a recent event held at the occupied library. Green Party leader Natalie Bennett and Sara Ayech of Transition Towns joined more than 60 educators, activists and community members to explore constructive resistance to current policies.

Not only libraries
Residents’ groups claim that Barnet council is aggressively pursuing an undemocratic outsourcing programme incongruously dubbed ‘One Barnet’. Citing a “relentless drive for efficiency” [3] as a key principle, this programme will see the privatisation of approximately 70% of Barnet’s public services, a move expected to result in large scale redundancies.
On 6 December a council meeting at Hendon Town Hall, intended to rubber-stamp the handover of ‘back office’ services to Capita, was disrupted by local activists. Protesters succeeded in derailing the meeting and held their own public assembly in the committee room. The Barnet Alliance for Public Services (BAPS) announced on 11 December that a Judicial Review of the One Barnet programme is being sought. [4]

Not only Barnet
Vicki Morris, of BAPS, encourages grassroots groups everywhere to resist outsourcing and defend public services: “It is time the spotlight was shone on these companies. This situation is being repeated all over the UK, as outsourcing companies line up to take over services. They offer cash-strapped councils promises of savings that often never materialise. Meanwhile, they exploit council employees to turn a profit”.

Unite to defend
Those protesting the sale and development of Friern Barnet library and its surrounding green space have the following clear message for the council:

“Library campaign groups working with the Occupy movement and the local community share a common aim: that Friern Barnet library should be re-opened in the existing building by Barnet council and preserved as a fully funded library and community space with the direct involvement of local people in the decision making process. The occupation of the building is a direct action that has highlighted the massive community support for Friern Barnet library, and has challenged not only its closure but the entire One Barnet programme and the privatisation of our public services in general.”

The group has issued a call-out for support during the court hearing beginning 09:30 on 17 and 18 December at Barnet Civil and Family Courts Centre, St Mary’s Court, Regent’s Park Road, Finchley Central, N3 1BQ.

Contact: friernbarnetcommunitylibrary@gmail.com  ;  07592 231150 / 07722454777 / 07769791387

Librarians revolt!Save the Library

[1] Civil and Family Courts Centre, St Marys Court, Regents Park Road, Finchley Central, London N3 1BQ

[2] http://www.times-series.co.uk/news/10093118.Library_s_listed_status_will_not_prevent_sale/

[3] http://www.barnet.gov.uk/info/920056/one_barnet_transformation_programme/904/one_barnet_transformation_programme

[4] http://www.theoutsourceblog.com/2012/12/barnet-council%E2%80%99s-mega-outsourcing-deal-sparks-judicial-review/

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Up The Anti

Up The AntiReclaim The Future, a one-day conference aimed at the broad Left, took place at Queen Mary University, Mile End on Saturday 1 Dec.

The event was largely an attempt to find common ground, with a view to making a concerted effort to bring about a better future. Anarchists, socialists, activists, communists, writers, journalists, educators, occupiers, Trotskyists, campaigners, union members and unaligned dissidents mingled, debated, and occasionally more-or-less agreed with each other.

Many people seemed to think a session on debt strikes was the most interesting part of the day, especially as participants were encouraged to escape the formal lecture theatre seats, to sit on the floor and on steps, and to chat around the subject, Occupy-style, before feeding back to the whole group. Speakers on this subject included anarchist and anthropologist David Graeber, author of Debt: The First 5000 Years; Nick Mirzoeff, who has been involved with the Strike Debt movement in the US and writes a Daily Observation of Occupy; Michael Richmond of The Occupied Times who is also involved in the nascent Strike Debt movement in the UK; and Jonathon Stevenson of the Jubilee Debt Campaign.

Critics of UTA complained of too much speechifying and theorising. This is a valid criticism, and yet theory was balanced with consideration of practical, real-life issues such as journalism, housing, racism, debt and the situations in Greece and the Global South.

There were too many white men – or rather, there were not enough people of colour and there were relatively few women, particularly on the ‘panels’. There were too many talks going on all at the same time with not enough time between the formal sessions for discussion and assimilation of information. There was nothing specifically feminist or environmentally-themed, although these subjects were touched upon in many of the sessions. As both feminism and environmental awareness are pretty central to anti-capitalism and vice versa, it would have been good to have more emphasis on both. The dearth of environmentalists might in part have been due to the Big Rig Revolt, also taking place on 1 Dec in London and around the UK.

Up The Anti was, perhaps, a step towards getting the notoriously fractious Left to admit that most of its parts are broadly on the same ‘side’ (erm, yeah, the left side) and that it might be ok to disagree about some things while still working together.

Pragmatically, it better had be ok to disagree, because we do. Is there any point dealing with mainstream politics and mainstream media? Are attempts to live the dream in the now (aka prefigurative politics) a good thing? Should we engage with people whose ideas we don’t like and try to persuade them to change, or is that a waste of time (or worse, a validation of their views)? How much of a role should unions have in our networks? Anarchism or socialism or communism or no ism? These are questions around which unity cannot be built.

On the other hand: debt resistance, indymedia offensives, international networking, linking climate change and capitalism, anti-discrimination campaigning, claiming space… These are issues that diverse groups, with different theoretical underpinnings and preferred tactics, could work on simultaneously and in parallel, while refraining from sectarianism.

Up The Anti did not Reclaim The Future. It did, however, put up some signposts.

This blog is also posted on Occupy News Network (ONN), along with a huge amount of news, comment and opinion compiled by citizen journalists and Occupy supporters around the world.

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Strike Debt

Strike Debt seems to be resonating in the States, where an Occupy Wall Street spin-off sees the ‘Rolling Jubilee‘ project buying up medical debt and writing it off, releasing the poverty-stricken from slavery to loan repayments that they can’t hope to meet, on loans that they didn’t choose to take out. $7 million and rising of debt has been disappeared. In parallel with the Jubilee, a Debt-Resistors’ Operations Manual encourages debtors to recognise the illegitimacy of debt and gives practical advice on managing and resisting debt. The vision is of a support-network of refuseniks.

The underlying message is: We, the people, are in charge. We no longer accept that we owe anything to voracious and corrupt institutions. We refuse to be frightened into submission. We don’t believe in this system anymore, so it can’t control us.

I’m not so sure it’ll work in the UK, where we don’t have the same kinds of grossly unjust medical debt, where our student debts don’t have to be paid back until we’re earning enough to raise us out of poverty (and then are extracted from our pay packets whether we like it or not)… and where the buying-up of debt is not such a simple process.

Even in the US, some are sceptical. How many benefactors will pay into the Rolling Jubilee scheme? Not enough to make a difference, or too many? If the project becomes successful, won’t it just put up the price of debt? If it becomes really successful, could it vaporise hard-earned pensions – or even crash the economy? (A bigger question lurking here – would crashing the economy be a good thing or a bad thing?) How is debt-resistance different from personal bankruptcy? Are people going to risk losing their homes and possessions to the bailiffs, or is Strike Debt really only appealing to the desperate and destitute, who have no option but to default and lose everything?

Understanding the Strike Debt tactic may rest on understanding that debt has been more-or-less forced on vast swathes of the population (in the US and the UK) by capitalism’s relentless need for growth. Companies must keep selling stuff to keep the profits rolling in to keep the shareholders happy and the managers’ bonuses boosted. Who’s been buying all that stuff? Well, ordinary people have, because they were told by the media and the advertising industry that they needed or deserved it. How have they afforded it, given that wages have stagnated? By taking out loans. Banks and loan companies have been charging interest on those loans and so have been extracting money to grow the financial sector too. More and more money extracted from the poor in order to feed the rich in a sick Robin Hood reversal.

Then, well, the banks went bust, the banks got bailed out, but no one bailed out the people. The banks gobbled up public money, and now there’s no money for public services. The rich don’t pay their fair share of taxes, but the poor are expected to pay back the loans they were encouraged to take out (to keep the economy ‘healthy’), even though they’re poorer than ever now that benefits and services are being cut.

It’s not only individuals and communities that get crushed in the relentless scramble to ‘grow’, or prop-up, the economy [translation for economic growth = increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of a few]. The pursuit of infinite growth also has catastrophic environmental effects. It means plundering natural resources in entirely unsustainable ways, releasing carbon willy nilly and making things with built-in obsolescence instead of built-to-last robustness; and so, we have pollution, climate change and threatened biodiversity. A warming world, extreme weather events and sick bees. Which means there’s a very large debt owed to our children, and unless radical change happens very soon, we won’t be able to pay that back either.

It’s all wrong, it’s completely unfair, but is Strike Debt the answer? The Rolling Jubilee in the US should perhaps be seen as an awareness-raising tool as much, or more, than a genuine attempt to redress the problem. Whether the more challenging debt resistance movement can make a significant impact on the staus quo I don’t yet know, but it’s surely worth researching, testing, trying.

StrikeDebtUK are beginning to work out how the concept could be implemented here.

More info on debt, and a chance to join in the debate, at Up The Anti – Reclaim The Future on Dec 1, St Mary University, London.

Or read this thought-provoking piece by Sahil Dutta: Debt As Power.

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Snapshots from Greece

There’s a lot of graffiti in Athens and a lot of boarded-up, shuttered shops. English language Athens News reports that a third of city centre businesses have closed down since the economic crisis hit. There are more prostitutes around Omonia Square than when I was last here fifteen years ago and at 6am this morning – pre-dawn, an hour I now realise belongs to the night – I was nearly mugged walking streets that I remember with nostalgia. A feint across a road followed by a dash towards an early-opening newspaper kiosk saved me from the guy creeping up behind me and his mate lurking behind a pillar.

There are more cappuccinos and frappuccinos than last time I was here, too. Then it was “Greek coffee or Nescafe?” The new cold coffees are sold in disposable plastic cups with huge bubble-shaped lids.

There’s a metro station in Syntagma Square now. The McDonalds on the corner (still useful, as always, for its loo) has swapped its garish red and yellow frontage for the supposedly sophisticated bottle green version. There are police in the square and some of the marble slabs have been torn up, to be used as missiles during strikes and protests.

Greeks still ride motorbikes without helmets and shop in traditional fresh food markets, buying olives and nuts, cheese and meat and fish and fruit by the kilo, weighed out on a traders’ scales rather than prepackaged in superstore cellophane.

Tourists still throng the Plaka and flow through Syntagma and you wouldn’t guess, on Saturday afternoon, that on Wednesday molotov cocktails were being thrown… except that there’s a large plastic gazebo, some kind of promotional booth, still standing ragged and melted and blackened between the fountains.

On this Saturday in late September, central Athens’ streets are vibrant despite the boarded-up shops. Teens wear neon pinks and greens, women’s sandals are encrusted with gleaming plastic jewels. Feelgood fashions rule in the Age of Austerity. Street artists, musicians and breakdancers busk along Ermou. Crowds gather, to listen and watch and smile and applaud and throw change into hats and bouzouki cases, while sipping on bubble-topped frothy coffees.

Then, in the late afternoon, dozens of shabbily dressed men hit the streets with shopping trolleys. They rifle through bins and rubbish heaps in the backstreets. Cans, bottles, broken furniture and anything else that can be fixed or sold goes into the trolleys.

At the Acropolis at dusk, a Greek friend tells me that up here – looking out over an Athens bathed in soft pink, gold and lilac – she has hope for humanity. “It’s an ugly city,” she admits, but points out, amongst the dirty-white concrete tower blocks, an ancient church, an even more ancient Hellenic temple and a large mosque. History and diversity, visible and palpable, multi-layered and robust.

Apparently Athenian anarchists are joining gyms, toughening up in preparation for fighting Golden Dawn fascists. The blame-game has been set in motion and if it’s not the dirty foreigners to blame then it’s corrupt politicians and if not them, inept management of public services or tax evasion or or or… perhaps it’s the whole warped system, stupid.

In rural Crete, abandoned villages are coming back to life as city folk re-evaluate the value of land; of goats and olive trees and crumbling family homes, where food can be grown and gathered and reared. Traditional knowledge lives on in village octogenarians and perhaps this crisis will prevent its loss.

Cretan coastal towns remain largely unaffected by the crisis. Northern Europeans continue to rent apartments and sun-loungers but now the shops selling souvenirs and tourist tat are pushing local produce – honey and herbs gathered from the mountains, olive oil and olive wood hand-carved bowls and fiery tsikoudia spirit.

I think I want to live here.

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Festival Of Resistance

It felt like summer, at last. It was the first weekend of the school holidays and everyone was heading south, down the M6 to Devon and Cornwall, to sandcastles and seaweed and surf. I was on my way to Devon to meet a bunch of occupiers, anarchists, socialists, greenies and unclassifiable objectors-to-the-current-system at the Festival of Resistance.

I was going along to spread the word about the Occupied Times and to help a fellow OT editor convince anyone who needed convincing that creating our own indymedia is vital. I didn’t know what to expect, just knew that the festival was organised by ‘Globalise Resistance’ who have been accused in the past of being a front for the Socialist Workers’ Party.

M arrived before me. His text said: “I always suspected the leftist insurrection would start from a Devonian stately home.”

Italian terraces and smooth lawns with views to the coast. A walled tea garden, trapping the sun. An unlikely location for a hotbed of revolutionary zeal, for the harbouring of undercover SWP members and for having many kilowatts of solar panel in a meadow around the back.

The caretaker of this stately pile was recently in court accused of trashing a GM wheat trial site at Rothamsted Research Institute. An organic farmer and passionate about permaculture, he’s concerned that genetically modified crops could cross-breed with conventional plants and become impossible to control. One of the weekend’s talks was on this subject.

Economic meltdown in Greece, anti-capitalism, food sovereignty, community rights, undercover cops, William Morris, the Olympics, imperialism, debt and austerity, the banking crisis, radical design and the Leveson inquiry were also on the agenda. A great speaker from the New Economics Foundation explained “just how fucked the economy is.”

There were probably a couple of Socialist Workers in attendance and possibly a cop or two. There was a guy in an Anonymous mask, a few anarchists, the odd geek and more photographers and livestreamers than some attendees felt to be prudent.

Those identifying as occupiers were reminded that Occupy didn’t invent the idea of pitching a tent and clamouring for change, nor was it the first movement to see the personal as political or to understand that things have gone wrong on a global scale. Amateur activists learned a little history from veterans of Greenham Common, of anti-globalisation protests and road protest camps, of Stonehenge Free Festival and the poll tax riots, of Reclaim the Streets and Climate Camp.

A recurring theme was the importance of networking between radical groups that are broadly leftwing, of focusing on our similarities and agreements rather than squabbling. The Festival of Resistance proved that this is possible. We’re moving away from the old isms – capitalism is rubbish but what we have isn’t even capitalism any longer, it’s corporatism and cronyism and corruption. Likewise socialism and communism are old hat. For now we’re refusing to be trapped in boxes and are steering clear of labels.

One big question that we returned to repeatedly was ‘What is Our Alternative’? Sure, we know the current system stinks. We know that profit-chasing, planet-raping and power-mongering are bad. We don’t believe austerity and privatisation are the answers to anything. So what are the answers? The words and concepts that keep cropping up are: Community, Co-operation, Transition, The Commons.

The weekend ended with the question “So what do we do now?” Answers were thrown into a pot:

“Support Greece and Spain – they’re the canaries, huge experiments are being conducted over there, we should travel there en masse, by train…”

“We need to be connecting globally, with the majority world, with the global South, not just across Europe and the States.”

“For alternatives look to South America, to Argentina, and to some extent to Greece. They’re learning new ways of organising and co-operating, through necessity.”

“Give people what they want in order to gain their support – we can’t expect them to join us just because we’re right!”

“Focus on debt. Refuse to pay unjust debts.”

“Link up with the unions, we need mass action… help to radicalise the unions, as ‘the Sparks’ have been doing.”

“Everything needs doing and we need to reach out to everyone! Transition towns, freeware geeks, faith groups, co-operatives…”

“We need to engage and evoke a visceral response, not just an intellectual one.”

“We need to move fast, there’s not much time, climate chaos is just around the corner.”

What I’d have liked to do next was for everyone to say which of these answers resonated most for them and to link up with others of like mind. Form affinity groups. Note down action points. Instead the bus to London arrived and most everyone rushed off to pack up their tents, bolt a bite of lunch and squeeze onto a sweaty coach.

I went to the beach.

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