The latest CONCEPT, the always probing Scottish Community Education Journal, has landed in my lap at a moment of some personal and political despair. A dearest friend and comrade of nearly 40 years is terminally ill. His cancer was missed – the other side of the COVID balance sheet. As he slips away I feel my [our] hopes for the future, our faith that ‘another world is possible’ slipping away too. As it is I hold his hand from afar, trapped on Crete, this locked-down island ‘paradise’. I send photos and anecdotes, phone and hope to hear his distinctive voice but he is often exhausted and distracted. The very title of this blog, ‘Chatting Critically’ is born of our shared conviction that at the heart of any would-be emancipatory relationship in youth work and far beyond is a willingness to listen, question and explore. In short to chat attentively, respectfully and openly. Perhaps I exaggerate but such a culture of contested concern seems to be on the wane. If we allow the parameters of public debate to be set by behavioural psychologists, who believe they know us better than we know ourselves, what else to expect?
In this light I can but thank all of those involved in CONCEPT and the Letters from Lockdown included in this Spring issue for making me smile a little and reflect afresh. Whilst I doubt whether I have departed the trough of despond, they have prevented me from falling further into its depths. It was much needed and is thoroughly appreciated.
At least since the late 1970s and the triumph of neoliberalism we have lived through a period of orchestrated, self-centred individualism. Active citizens reduced to passive consumers. This debilitating onslaught on both our collective sensibility and our organisations of solidarity has been resisted – most magnificently, in my opinion, during the Great Strike of 1984/85. Yet the neoliberal behavioural modification project has proved highly successful. Even as the neoliberal economic model broke asunder in 2008 its narcissistic ideology held its own. On another day I might well try to explore how the technocratic authoritarian State response to COVID has thrived on the back of demanding that, muzzled, we distance ourselves from each other; that we abandon hard-won freedoms, not least the right to protest. In saying this I recognise that mutual aid flourished in the early part of the manufactured crisis but wonder whas happened to its flowering? And, in directing you to this Memorial Lecture, I do so with some trepidation. Why, you might ask, given my nostalgia for those days, privileged to stand alongside the men and women of the mining communities? My anxiety flows from my dismay at the British Left as a whole, which, if anything, has indicated that, if in power, it would be even more draconian. For my part, if they could be bothered , I would suggest they read and ponder the libertarian Lenin, who in ‘State and Revolution’ argued that ‘every cook’ should govern. As it is today most cooks, outside of the home, are unemployed and haven’t the faintest say in ‘what’s going on’. I’m intrigued by how Ken Loach will see matters.
Following upon the momentum created by Gus John’s account of his clash with the BBC, Sanitising Racism, Past and Present it is all the more challenging to post his passionate rejection of the almost taken-for-granted and ‘hideous’ acronym, BAME – Black, Asia and Minority Ethnic. More than a few questions herein for the youth work world I have inhabited across the decades….and society at large.
DON’T BAME ME
Just before the lockdown, my granddaughter came home from school one day very upset and confused. That afternoon, a classmate sitting at her table suddenly announced that from now on we will all call Anna (not her real name) ‘nigger’. They are both 10 and British white and African respectively. Anna remonstrated with him and one of her mates, white, insisted that she should tell the teacher. In a discussion that ensued later, questions were asked about what the school was doing about race and one adult added ‘especially as there are so few Bame students in the school’. Anna had no clue as to what Bame meant and when she was told, she asked why it mattered that there were few students like her in the school, given the fact that it was the white boy who had used the racial slur. When on reaching home she called to tell me about it, I found it considerably less problematic to explain to her the origins and usage of ‘the n-word’ than that of BAME.
So, here is a British born child, confident in her own skin, unapologetic about her blackness and totally comfortable with her white classmates having sleep overs at her home and vice versa, being made to feel that she was a problem; a problem that required the school to deal with the issue of race; being made to feel that if she had not been there, the white boy would not have had cause to call anybody ‘nigger’ and the school would have had no need to concern itself with race.
But, that school had long demonstrated to her that it saw no need to concern itself with race, not least by virtue of the fact that nothing in its library or displayed on its walls sent out to students, teachers or parents that there were people in Britain, let alone the world, other than white people like themselves.
So, why was it was more difficult to explain the origin and use of the word ‘nigger’ than that of the hideous and equally demeaning acronym BAME?
How does a parent tell a 10 year old that by virtue of the colour of her skin, by virtue of the fact that she is melanin rich, she is rendered ‘other’ and racialised as ‘black’ and as ‘nigger’ as the worst and most contemptible embodiment and existential manifestation of black? How does a parent equip that child with the mental energy, the self esteem, the self confidence and the determination to defend her essential humanity and make sure that no one takes liberties with her and denigrate her on account of her blackness?
And, while her parents are building with and within her those essential tools for resistance and survival, what are the parents of her white classmates doing to ensure that they are not being socialised within the putrid culture of racism in Britain to become racist oppressors, whether by commission or omission?
So, what is the context of this conversation about the terminology we use to denote racial identity and to denote ethnicity?
The context I suggest is the racialisation of difference and of different populations across the globe; racialisation of people, their ethnicity, their history, their culture and cultural products. Such racialisation has been the historical function of imperialism and colonialism and with it has evolved a language that serves the purpose of underpinning racial hierarchies and trapping those at or near the bottom of the hierarchy in mindsets and ways of being and of self-perception that correspond to those hierarchies.
We ignore the relationship between language, power and identity at our peril. Words matter. They convey deep meanings and they help to frame identities. They are the medium through which we give expression to our existential reality and through which others seek to deny, denigrate and negate our existential reality.
Before I arrived in Britain in 1964 aged 19, I had not heard the word ‘coloured’ used to describe African people except in the specific context of apartheid in South Africa. As a teenager, I was deeply affected by reading Alan Paton’s, ‘Cry, the Beloved Country’.So, when I heard white people and even Caribbean people calling other Caribbean people like myself ‘coloured’, I was quite alarmed. And then I read Stokeley Carmichael and Charles Hamilton’s ‘Black Power’ and I learnt about the Negritude Movement and I read James Baldwin, Claude Mackay, Ralph Ellison and saw images of Black Panther and civil rights marches and of Jim Crow barbarism as African Americans struggled against state racism in the USA.
I found it interesting that the bestial British who for centuries had treated African people worse than they did animals had suddenly converted to humanity, such that they were insisting that it was not just impolite but downright offensive to call us ‘black’. We were being condemned for using our supplementary schools to teach ‘Black Power’. Black was considered to be associated with violence, armed resistance against the state and its apparatuses and generally with a radical and revolutionary mindset. ‘Coloured’ was more consensual and conformist and in any event, it made white folk feel better, except of course when they were ready to cuss us. I’ve never heard the racial slur ‘you coloured bastard’. No, we got the full monty, including and especially from the police: ‘You black bastard’.
And then, the contorted language of race relations brought us ethnic minorities and black and ethnic minorities. This gave rise to a protracted debate about whether we were ethnic minority or minority ethnic. That debate completely missed the point, i.e., a) that whether ‘ethnic minority’ or ‘minority ethnic’, we were consenting to being minoritized and ‘othered’ for all time and that we were considered and treated as ‘minority’, not just in relation to our ‘per capita’ representation in the population as part of the African and the Asian Diaspora, but minority in intelligence, in capabilities, in moral values, in our contribution to human evolution, etc. The society which automatically valued and validated white folk, began to demand that we prove ourselves and demonstrate that we had the capacity to hold certain positions before we could be accepted as eligible for appointment to a wide spectrum of posts; b) that as far as ethnicity was concerned, we were not just ethnic minorities, we were ethnic outcasts, vying with other ethnic minorities like ourselves and scrambling for crumbs and handouts from those in power, who were always facing a potential backlash from the white majority who saw us as undeserving and as taking what should have been given to them.
No one ever spoke or wrote about the ethnic majority in the society and how they engaged with their racial and ethnic identity. People and things were only ethnic when they were, or were related to, people and cultures that were not white. It is as if we had come into a land of ethnic neutrality and cultural homogeneity and were clumps of trees in vast forests of melanin starved corn; in other words, a population of people without colour (PWC) in more ways than one.
In time, those halcyon days when black denoted struggle of the sort that African people had waged for centuries against enslavement, colonisation and neo-colonialism and therefore was thought to encompass liberation struggles, broadly speaking, of oppressed and dispossessed peoples everywhere, including against the caste system in the Indian subcontinent, against Israeli occupation of Palestine and against the genocide of indigenous peoples in the Americas and Australasia, those halcyon days gave way to a far narrower definition of black as signifying African – as in Africa and its Diaspora -, with most diasporan Africans seeing themselves as having either a hyphenated identity, – African-American, African-Caribbean, French-African – and many emphatically rejecting their African heritage altogether. Among the latter are significant numbers of Caribbean people of all ages, who while being comfortable with being called Black would never call themselves and resent being called African. In other words, they have no time whatsoever for Peter Tosh’s famous declaration:
‘Don’t care where you come from As long as you’re a black man, you’re an African’
Asians in Britain determined that they were not Black and they were no ‘ethnic minority’ either. In time, BME morphed into Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME).
BAME is a hideous acronym and it is one that does no justice to any of the sections of the British population encompassed by that ill-defined term. Black is an umbrella classification for whom exactly? Black African? Black British of African and of Caribbean parentage? Black British of African, or Caribbean and white European parentage? How about the large Indo-Caribbean population of Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago, almost as numerous as the African-Caribbean population? In Britain, are they and their offspring Black Caribbean, or are they Asian as in BAME?
And what do we understand by Asian? What does that umbrella classification encompass? People from the Indian subcontinent only, as in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh? People from the Indian Ocean? People from countries that form the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN):Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Phillipines, Vietnam, Brunei, Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia, Laos? People from China? People from Taiwan?
And if ‘Asians’ as in BAME signify people from the Asian continent and its Diaspora, why are people from the African continent and its Diaspora represented as ‘Black’ in BAME? I would suggest that ‘Black’ in that context has less connotations of Black as in “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud’ than as black representing historical enslavement, reserve pools of labour, endless struggle for fundamental rights and entitlements and from the bondage of endemic racism.
As for ethnic minority/minority ethnic, we have to lead the way in abandoning this terminology.
The population of Europe’s ethnic majority, ie, white Europeans, is roughly 748 million. The population of the Indian subcontinent alone is approximately 1 billion, 765 million. 25% of the world’s population live in South Asia. Whites make up 60% of the population of the USA. The UK has a population of 68 million, of whom 9 million are non-white.
There is no evidence that I have seen of people from the Asian or African Diaspora regarding themselves as ethnic minorities in Britain. On the contrary, migrant and settler communities from those continents project anything but a minority consciousness. Yet, we readily adopt and persist with a language of hierarchy and of oppression, both here and in the USA. Among the bewildering array of terms that are in increasingly regular usage in Britain are: People of Colour; Black and Non-Black People of Colour and more recently Black, Indigenous, People of Colour (BIPOC).
Who determined that Black or Indigenous people are ethnic minorities? Even numerically, why are we minoritizing ourselves who constitute 85% at least of the world’s population? Nigeria has a population of over 200 million. Britain has a population of 68 million. Why should Nigerians see themselves as an ethnic minority in Britain or anywhere else in Europe? And as for ‘People of Colour’ or ‘Visible Minorities’, why are we defining ourselves against globalised whiteness as some assumed norm and minoritizing ourselves as if we don’t fully belong, especially given Europe’s historical exploits around the globe?
There are little and large enclaves of white folk all over the world and on each continent. They never define themselves, nor do we ever define them, as ‘ethnic minorities’. We call them and they refer to themselves as ‘expats’, expatriates from their homeland who happen to be in some other country (typically seen as inferior to theirs). In other words, people are only ‘ethnic’ and ‘minority’ when they are not white. And yet, we fail to see how we ourselves are privileging whiteness as the ‘norm’ when we call ourselves ‘people of colour’, ‘ethnic minorities’ and the rest.
BAME is bad enough, but BIPOC for heaven’s sake…. So, we tacitly and implicitly accept that ‘white’ is a unified concept, all embracing, all encompassing. No diversity, ethnic minorities or multiculturalism in the white majority. It’s one undifferentiated, melanin starved mass. When it comes to us, however, we are BAME, POC, BIPOC, non-White ……and Backward.
If African people are People of Colour, why deny white Europeans the privilege of being called People without Colour, in other words, not having to carry the burden of blackness with all its historical baggage of unacceptability and undesirability?
The critical question in all this is: When is it going to end? It is estimated that in less than 50 years, the non-white population of Britain will outnumber the melanin starved, the WIPONC (White and Indigenous People of No Colour). Do we have to wait until then before we Africans and Asians develop and project a majority consciousness and stop minoritizing ourselves? Meanwhile, what does BAME tell us about the way the diverse populations we group as Black and Asian and Minority Ethnic experience the society and its endemic racisms? Do Indians, Bangladeshis, Chinese and Malaysians experience the society and its institutions in identical ways? Do they have equal access and equal opportunity? Similarly, those of us Africans who are lumped together as ‘Black’?
Convenient though policymakers no less than academics and journalists find it to use BAME and POC, I believe that we have a duty to disrupt the hegemony of that language and its power to racialise, marginalise and exclude. For one thing, young Black British people such as my children and grandchildren need a home. They need to see themselves as being the continuum of an Ancestral line, as having an African ancestry. Britain is where they live, but it can never be their ‘home’. Their ‘Mother country’ is Africa. While we believe in people’s right to self-identify and that therefore, Caribbean people have a right to declare that they are not African or Asian, or British for that matter, we would all consider it rather bizarre if they all started calling themselves Innuits.
I have no idea, any more than you do, how long it would take before we abandon the language of BAME and POC and BIPOC. But, we can all start by taking responsibility to avoid using it in our speech and in our writing. Although many regard it as being equally problematic, I increasingly use terms such as Global Majority, or African and Global Majority, instead of BAME. I never ever use ‘People of Colour’, for as far as I am concerned there is no difference between being called a person of colour, or a ‘woman of colour’ and a ‘coloured woman’.
Problematic it may be, but psychologically it nurtures my sense of wellbeing in this racist society to define myself and my offspring as African and Global Majority, rather than endorsing the label of BAME and POC.
I rest my case.
Gus John International Consultant & Executive Coach Visiting Professor – Coventry University Honorary Fellow and Associate Professor The UCL Institute of Education – University of London
A week ago I attended from afar the streamed New Cross Fire 40th anniversary memorial service. Through my close friendship with Malcolm Ball, a leading Lewisham youth worker and activist across the decades, my frequent visits to Deptford and indeed the St Andrews Centre, I felt I had an inkling of the grief and anger sparked by the tragedy. A week ago too Gus John was interviewed on BBC radio. You will find below his passionate, perceptive and uncomfortable account of the issues raised by the encounter.As Gus argues, ‘There is a serious debate to be had about all of these matters.’Responses encouraged and welcomed to firstname.lastname@example.org
From ‘Nigger-hunting’ to ‘Paki-bashing’ to Police Murders….Very British Pastimes.
On 18 January 2021, on the 40th Anniversary of the New Cross Massacre, I did an interview with Robert Elms, BBC Radio London
At the start of the interview, I was setting out the background to the New Cross Fire and the history of neo-fascist activity in London and the country generally and said that there had been years of neo-fascist activity in our communities including ‘Paki-bashing’ as the perpetrators themselves called it’…. And before I could complete the sentence with ‘and ‘nigger-hunting’, Elms interrupted saying ‘please don’t use that language. We cannot use such language on the BBC’. I determined that it would be more productive to move on to the core subject rather than remonstrate with him, but after the programme I wrote to the producer as below. His reply was both instructive and deeply concerning. What I said and Elm’s objection to my saying it have been elided from the recording in the link above.
I believe the BBC’s position is untenable and to invoke the potentially hurt feelings of their own black staff in support of dodgy editorial decisions is just disgraceful.
I joined the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination (CARD) in 1965 and a couple years later I was one of those going around London and Leicester gathering evidence of the most vicious race discrimination, evidence which helped in no small measure to convince Harold Wilson and his government of the need for the 1968 Race Relations Act.
I saw my father stumble into our house that same year, bloodied, cut and bruised all over because he had been set upon on his way from work just after 06.00 on a winter’s morning and nearly beaten to death by a group of racists with baseball bats, motorbike chains and sticks. They seemed to come from nowhere and all he heard was ‘one less nigger’ and they were all over him. He had the presence of mind to run into somebody’s yard, pick up a bottle of milk, smash it and cut off the ear of one of his assailants, at which point they saw that he was ready to kill or be killed and they all ran off.
A matter of weeks later, my 16 year old brother was arrested for riding his bike in the park not far from our home. The police took him to Acton police station because he was ‘lippy’ and one of them defecated in a toilet and then pulled him out of a cell (he had not even been charged), took him to that same toilet and two of them held his head down in the faeces while they flushed the toilet. He nearly drowned in that filth. They then kicked him out of the police station. He arrived home totally traumatised and couldn’t eat for days. He remained traumatised for the rest of his short life. He went to prison for assaulting police a couple years later and was constantly having problems with them. He took to drink and died aged 49. Having drunk too much on his birthday, he fell down the stairs in his own flat and broke his neck.
My father came here in 1957 and by 1972 he and my mother were back in Grenada, having vowed never to set foot in England ever again. They both passed on without ever visiting the UK thereafter. They must have been among the earliest returners of their generation.
I fought off ‘nigger hunters’ in Notting Hill in 1968, especially after what had happened to my father and was angry at how nonchalant the police were about their activities, while being ever ready to frame us for having offensive weapons. As a youth worker in Ladbroke Grove at the time, I and other youth workers constantly walked young people home or to their bus because of the relentless harassment and provocation they suffered at the hands of the police.
I of all people therefore do not need the BBC to tell me how offensive terms like ‘nigger hunting’ and ‘Paki-bashing’ actually are. I conducted the Burnage Inquiry into the racist murder of 14 year old Bangladeshi student Ahmed Iqbal Ullah with Ian Macdonald QC and colleagues. Having stabbed Ahmed to death, his 14 year old white student attacker ran around the school shouting hysterically ‘I killed a Paki, I killed a Paki’.
There is a serious debate to be had about all of these matters.
One disturbing feature of the New Cross Fire story is the number of people in our communities and in the country generally below the age of 50 who have no knowledge of it. They have no knowledge either of the firebombing of premises in New Cross, Deptford, Ladywell and Lewisham generally and attacks on Asian families in their homes and on the streets that had been perpetrated by white terrorists and neo-fascists for more than a decade before the New Cross Fire. Such activity had a history that dated back to the 1919 racial attacks upon black service personnel demobbed from the First World War, through to ‘nigger hunting’ in London and elsewhere in the 1950s and ‘Paki-bashing’ right up to the present.
Throughout that period, also, hundreds of black people have been killed by the police with none being brought to justice since the murderers of David Oluwale in Leeds in 1969 were charged, not with murder or manslaughter, but with grievous bodily harm.
British historians have typically airbrushed the history of the barbarism of African enslavement and of British imperialism across the globe. Now, the media is leading the way in sanitising the barbarism of British racism, even as the police continue to kill black people indiscriminately while enjoying the full protection of the state and the judicial system. One could justifiably conclude that black people, males in particular, have an unnatural propensity to die of natural causes while in the custody of the police.
So, in a society where it is deemed offensive to spell the word ‘nigger’ and the word ‘Paki’ in full in any context, black people are routinely killed by the police without the state or the nation batting an eyelid. That is why this nation and its institutions reacted as if they needed a George Floyd event to trigger their epiphany, oblivious of the fact that we have ignored hundreds of British George Floyds, despite years of campaigning for justice in plain sight across the country. The hope is, no doubt, that it would soon be forgotten that there was a time when black people were called ‘niggers’ and ‘wogs’ and anyone who looked like they might be from the Indian subcontinent attacked and killed on the streets or in their homes with impunity.
Racism has been sanitised and recast as ‘unconscious bias’. British social history is being sanitised to expunge un-British activities such as ‘nigger hunting’, ‘Paki-bashing’ and police murders of black people. The expectation no doubt is that history will absolve the nation for this induced amnesia.
I am glad I had the opportunity to help put the events of 40 years ago in New Cross in proper historical and political perspective and I have full admiration for the way Robert conducted the interview. Please pass on my thanks to him.
When you reminded me to watch my language, I did not for one moment imagine that you meant I should not mention what the NF, Column 88 etc called that barbaric activity they indulged in up and down the country against the South Asian community. I am not naive enough as to expect you and Robert Elms to change BBC policy, but as a social historian, I do worry about the full scale attempt by broadcast or for that matter print media, to sanitise the nasty and unadulterated racism to which black people are subjected in this country by not reporting such phenomena as historical fact. In my writing and my lectures, I remind people of campaigns in the 1960s by myself and others against landlords and hoteliers who posted signs saying: ‘No Coloureds, No Dogs, No Irish’, or ‘No Wogs, No Dogs, No Irish’, or against what the neo-fascists themselves called ‘Paki-bashing’ and ‘nigger-hunting’. To report the barbarism of the Far Right and the atrocious terminology that they used AND THAT THE MEDIA REPORTED at the time is important in my view because Britain needs to be reminded about that history and about the fact, as I was saying in the interview, that the state did not react proportionately, or at all, to those barbaric attacks which left scores of people of the African and Asian diaspora dead. If I say that the activities of such Far Right groups resulted in the deaths of people who were targeted only because of their ethnicity and that the perpetrators called their actions ‘Paki-bashing’, I am neither appropriating that language myself, nor using it to inflame passions within the Pakistani or Bangladeshi communities. Context is everything, even in broadcasting. I cannot understand why the BBC should want to so infantilise its listeners as to assume that they cannot tell the difference between describing neo-fascist activity and what that activity was called by neo-fascists themselves on the one hand, and the same term(s) used contemporaneously by myself or anybody else.
The murder of Kelso Cochrane in 1959 was a consequence of the routine ‘nigger-hunting’ that black communities in Notting Hill and elsewhere endured at the time. What is of consequence it seems to me, is not the fact that that terminology was and remains deeply racist, offensive and oppressive, but that white neo-fascists were allowed by the state and its police to indulge in those murderous activities with impunity. That fact is incontrovertibly more obscene than the words themselves.
The question is though, where in the BBC is this debate taking place and whom does it involve?
Turning to matters over which you do have some control, please send me a recording of the interview and a link to it so that I can share with others here in Wales and elsewhere.
From: Jamie Collins Sent: 18 January 2021 16:43 To: Gus John <email@example.com> Subject: RE: BBC Radio London / Robert Elms Importance: High
I thought you were great – extremely important and poignant considering to this day many of the issues faced by those then are still having to be fought against and survived to this day. We received several messages and calls from listeners that appreciated the way we highlighted the anniversary on the show and you were integral to this.
We as an editorial team and the wider station have had numerous conversations on the use of words such as the n word or p word in full – even for illustrative purposes as you did. While I fully understand and accept why you feel it is important to say it – many of our listeners of colour and indeed staff members are offended by the full use of the word and can find it triggering. And so the reason we do not use such words is so as to ensure it does not offend those minority communities- but we also recognise that this in itself divides opinion.
I fully understand the worry that by censoring the words in this context might dilute the threat, violence and racism faced by the Black and Asian community at the time by those groups. I also recognise that a white person using the words for illustrative purposes is hugely different to a person of colour who is doing the same.
The editorial decision has been made to edit out that portion of the interview when it goes live in iPlayer/BBC Sounds and I’m planning on clipping the interview separately for our BBC Sounds page and will send you the link as soon as it’s up.
If you would like I would be happy to refer you to the Editor and Assistant Editor if you would like to discuss further – and I would sincerely like to thank you once again for your contribution – it made a real impact.
Professor Augustine John International Consultant & Executive Coach Visiting Professor – Coventry University Honorary Fellow and Associate Professor The UCL Institute of Education – University of London
Advertising Phil’s forthcoming ‘show’ allows me also to introduce you to the group, Skeptics Online,, of whom I’d never heard.
Skeptics in the Pub (abbreviated SITP) is an informal social event designed to promote fellowship and social networking among skeptics, critical-thinkers, freethinkers, rationalists and other like-minded individuals. It provides an opportunity for skeptics to talk, share ideas and have fun in a casual atmosphere, and discuss whatever topical issues come to mind, while promoting skepticism, science, and rationality.
We are a coalition of UK-based Skeptics groups. Formed as the COVID-19 pandemic brought our country to a standstill, we are working to deliver high-quality online events focusing on science, reason, and critical thinking.
Every Thursday at 7 pm (UK time), you will find us presenting live-streamed talks, all for free – you don’t even need to create an account. Simply open up twitch.tv/sitp.
Take a look at our events, past and future, we’re sure you’ll see a lot of content you will find interesting.
Phil’s outline of his show:
Since Michael Howard’s pronouncement that ‘Prison Works’ the prison population in the UK has doubled with the current Government planning to build several more multi-occupancy ‘Titan’ prisons to incarcerate thousands more men and women. This reflects an ill-founded commitment to what became a cross-party mantra. In what sense does ‘prison work’? Does the claim stand scrutiny? Or, as Jonathan Simon suggests, does locking away an ever-increasing number of women, men and children amount to ‘social warehousing’? Derived in three decades of activist work and academic research Phil Scraton will address the harms of imprisonment for those locked away, their families and their communities. He will critique the reformist ‘rehabilitation’ agenda and explore the potential for prison abolition. What would decarceration look like? What are alternatives and how would harms caused to individuals and communities by ‘criminal’ and ‘anti-social’ acts be addressed without the ‘punishment’ of incarceration?
Phil Scraton PhD, DLaws (Hon), DPhil (Hon) is Professor Emeritus, School of Law, Queen’s University Belfast. He has held visiting professorships at Amherst College, USA, the Universities of Auckland, Monash, New South Wales and Sydney. Widely published on critical theory, incarceration and children/ young people his books include: In the Arms of the Law – Coroners’ Inquests and Deaths in Custody; Prisons Under Protest; ‘Childhood’ in ‘Crisis’?; Hillsborough The Truth; Power, Conflict and Criminalisation; The Incarceration of Women; Women’s Imprisonment and the Case for Abolition. Having refused an OBE, he was awarded the Freedom of the City of Liverpool in recognition of his Hillsborough research.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia. He gave this moving and prescient speech on April 4, 1967, one year before his assassination. Its message resonates down the years to the present day.
“A time comes when silence is betrayal.”
The truth of these words is beyond doubt, but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty. But we must move on.
Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation’s history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movement, and pray that our inner being may be sensitive to its guidance. For we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.
A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West — investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries — and say: “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say: “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.
A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war: “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
War is not the answer. We still have a choice today; nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace and justice throughout the developing world a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality and strength without sight.
Irreconcilable atheist, though I be, this prayer sent to me by a dear friend appeals. Ahead of my rants that lie ahead, it will suffice unto the day. If it works I’ve recited it in the Lancastrian accent required!
https://voca.ro/1oIEDjSjNiWa – right click on this link and click on the flashing Play button and you should be accosted by my dulcit tones!
The struggle continues! La Lutta Continua! Ο αγώνας συνεχίζεται!
On 4 January, a British judge is set to rule on whether Julian Assange should be extradited to the United States, where he could face a 175-year sentence in a high-security “supermax” prison. He should not. The charges against him in the US undermine the foundations of democracy and press freedom in both countries.
Thanks to Anne Garrison for sharing the moving video.
I’m not sure if this piece, which appeared in the ninth issue of the Inner London Education Authority’s Schooling and Culture forty years ago, is of much interest today. Certainly, across the decades, it resonates for me, if for no one else, particularly so as its final paragraph mirrors the concluding call I make in the recent post, Resistance in a Climate of Anxiety and Precarity.
Compare the two:
1981 We are putting energy into building our local union branch to act as a focus for our political action. Crucial to this development is the building of links with other Community and Youth Service Association (CYSA) branches in the country and with other oppositional groups. But we do not want to be seen to be trotting out empty slogans about collectivity and solidarity. For instance we are struggling to make any contact at all with our local labour movement. Our own cohesion itself is very fragile, but we have made a start at the coalface. That is with our own feelings to one another. We will feel stronger in this struggle if we hear from other people across the country. Such a network of support is vital if we are to create a movement in opposition to the resurgence of repression and reaction that is upon us.
2021Gazing outwards I wonder whether this is a moment when IDYW should explore directly with its supporters the reasons for our reluctance to organise collectively. Am I being old-fashioned in believing that, when push comes to shove, if resistance is to strike fear into the powerful it will spring from acting together on the basis of the classic slogan, ‘Educate, Agitate, Organise’? Am I living in a dream to believe that a passionate and organised IDYW democratic alliance of workers, volunteers and young people could be part of the absolutely necessary social and political resistance to the dystopian prospect offered by the global elite and the World Economic Forum?
Of course, one the one hand, the similarity might well reveal the weariness of my thinking, that I am trapped in romantic nostalgia. On the other it might well illustrate that the will and commitment to self-organise, to come together under our own steam, remains fundamental. More than ever in these self-centred neoliberal times, it marks a break from the cul-de-sac of individualistic virtue. It is a choice we can make. It is a difficult choice, made ever easier the more we choose to do it together.
It’s more than interesting that the 1981 piece is a defence of liberal education as expressed in a process-led youth work faced by conservative resistance on the ground. In 2020 we strive to oppose a holistic liberal education to behavioural neo-liberal education and its technocratic imposition of prescribed outcomes.
STUTTERING STEPS IN POLITICAL EDUCATION
TONY TAYLOR AND ROY RATCLIFFE – at the time of writing I was the Wigan Youth Service’s Training Officer and Roy, an Area Youth Worker.
[Schooling and Culture, Issue 9, London, ILEA Cockpit Arts Workshop, Spring 1981 The issue, Youth, Community: Crisis, included a number of relevant articles. See in particular, Mica Nava, ‘Girls aren’t really a problem…’, Tony Taylor and Roy Ratcliffe, ‘Stuttering steps in political education’, and Bernard Davies, ‘Social Education and Political Education: In Search of Integration’.]
Within the present political and economic climate the Youth Service is once again in depression. The future is clouded. However, crises are a recurrent feature of youth work’s recent history and the response thus far suggests that the field is sceptical of this latest Armageddon. “Wolf’s been cried once too often!”—it is merely a time to keep one’s head down until the situation passes over. We would hope that this latest trough is not the slough of a very desperate despond. It is not just the Youth Service that faces calamity, but the whole of liberal education. Strategies of resistance are urgently needed. Here we wish to share our experiences about the attempted development of a Social Education Programme for a local authority statutory Youth Service and so participate in producing a positive collective response to the conservative onslaught.
Back in 1974 local government reorganisation offered the possibility of reviewing the state of the Youth Service. In Wigan a working party dominated by conservative elements within the voluntary sector produced a pale pamphlet which proposed (as objectives for youth leaders) tired and trusted tenets such as ‘the moral and spiritual development of young people.’ An increased youth work staff inherited this static apology as a blueprint for its practice. The dominant modes of operating available as examples to field workers were rooted in either ‘garden fete’ paternalism or activity oriented authoritarianism. Ideas of person-centred counselling and group work, the staple diet of training courses, floated on the margins of debates about the future. The underlying tension caused by this marginalisation and differing levels of perception was heightened by the influx of some workers more committed to a liberal perspective. Increasingly the long-standing traditional leadership base of youth work imposed an uneasy truce on the non-directive structures promulgated by training agencies following the post-Albermarle resurrection of Youth Service and the community emphasis of Milson/Fairbairn.
Over the first two years after reorganisation this lack of ‘compatibility’ between rival theories and practices caused frequent problems. As a response to this turmoil a group of full and part-time workers produced a document entitled The Programme of Action, which insisted that the Service’s objectives were the heightening of young people’s awareness (personal, social and political) and greater member participation. Quoting Brecht in “assisting the little fishes”, the introduction argued the Youth Service’s priority role in supporting the disadvantaged young person. Faced by such a clear statement of the liberal position’s concern for the individually deprived, the Youth Service hierarchy endorsed the submission and rushed it through Council to become the official Youth Service line. There was no attempt to familiarise the councillors and other advisory bodies with the content of the Programme. It was normal practice to treat them contemptuously as mere ‘rubber stamps’. Our acceptance of this manipulation and failure to discuss the issue seriously with the local politicians was to have severe repercussions in later years. However on the surface there was now the prospect of encouraging liberal youth work within the framework of the Programme of Action as a secure and agreed basis for the Youth Service staff. On paper we were now officially ‘Social Educators’.
In the following period the gulf between the rhetoric of the Programme of Action and the day to day reality caused further confrontations over such issues as policing the building; supporting the young homeless; swearing and moral decency. Reactionary positions continued to win the day and eventually several staff fled the scene. Crucial to the weakness of the ‘liberal’ position in this period was the poor relationship between full-time and many part-time staff. The latter’s overall support for status quo was often decisive. Linked to this failure the full-time staff itself became further fragmented. It was then a relatively simple task for the hierarchy ‘to divide and rule’.
Early in 1978 when the last remaining radical (and highest qualified) of the staff was ironically promoted to a training position, divisions within the staff grew worse. Bloodied and isolated the new Training Officer pursued a purist policy that created radical initiatives, which received only token support from the majority of the staff, who often used the argument that training occupied an ‘ivory tower’. Contradictorily the hierarchy tended to support this radical thrust, realising perhaps that it was unlikely to impinge problematically on practice, having themselves only a ‘wishy—washy’ pragmatism to put in its place. Crisis management was the order of the day and intervention only came after ‘things had blown up’.
The same year also saw the recruitment of further full-time staff new to the borough and it was against this background that training constructed a new strategy early in 1979. This was the setting up of a Training and Development Unit. Our argument was that this venture would provide a fresh angle on the problem of building a bridge between theory and practice. The view we took was that the liberal theories as they appeared in the Programme of Action, whilst containing the possibility of many alternative interpretations, also presented a sufficient brief to support a struggle against many elements of oppression in our society particularly as they affected young people. We considered that these liberal ideas and sentiments supported verbally by the hierarchy were evidence that these notions had general support from the majority of staff. We accepted the criticism that training was often cut-off from the day to day practice of youth work and needed to be brought closer to reality. We were aware that many part-time staff, some in the past and some recently, had tried and were trying against overwhelming odds to implement sections of the Programme of Action. The odds we all struggled against comprised of an ineffective, unimaginative, one year trained group of advisers for whom the status quo offered a peaceful if uneventful life; a general apathy and cynicism; and a lack of materials and resources with which to work. In developing the idea of a Training and Development Unit along with other innovations, we hoped to support current efforts; to develop good practice; to reinvigorate the demoralised; to convert the cynical; and call the bluff of the reactionaries. Some of the suggested initiatives were judged impractical for that year and so were shelved but the whole staff team welcomed the setting up of the Training and Development Unit.
Although the authority insisted on line management relationships, the endeavour was organised collectively. Internally within the unit there was no hierarchy, but the Youth Service structure accepted only one person, the Training Officer, as being responsible. Nevertheless it was hoped that many practical barriers would be removed by the provision of resources and the means to deliver them to the clubs. Principally the creation of a resource centre with a library, group work room, printing facilities, audio and video equipment and filming capability was to be the material factor that would overcome liberal Youth Work’s traditional inadequacies in the areas of planning, preparation and delivery. The centre would not, however, wait passively to be utilised but would be an active component brought to life by the Development Team. Exciting stimuli could be created at the centre on topics of social education and then taken into the world of table tennis and discos. The Development Team of one full-time worker and six part—time workers would be able to respond to requests, and prompt responses. Its main, if not sole brief was to lubricate the path of liberal theory to the seat of practice and then to return it for examination. Training was to move from ‘one-off’ exhortations and short courses to a view that sought to unite training, youth workers and young people in an educational dialogue.
Over the last two years the Training Centre, the Development Team and individual workers have indeed made moves towards these objectives. Yet the effect of theory on practice continues to be muted. The gap and therefore the contradiction between a liberal theory and a conservative practice remains. However, the efforts have served to sharpen our awareness of the depth of the blockages to the implementation of a social education praxis. In particular it has highlighted the rigidity of hierarchical structures; the flaccid response of many youth workers to authority; the insidious grip of ‘common-sense’ empiricism; the low self-image of the Service as a whole; and our own specific failure to build a solid base of support within and without the Service. Instead of now being in a position to examine how liberal theory enlightened practice, we are in the unfortunate position of being confronted by the mass of conservative practice which negated liberal theory. A number of ‘problems’ occurred, some of which we outline below. In each case we suggest that the practice was not checked against the supposed objectives of the Service, but that a summary arbitration was imposed on the basis of the lowest ‘common-sense’ denominator.
Case 1: THE ALL NIGHT PARTY
The Programme of Action underlines involvement as a major objective; it speaks of young people’s active involvement in the organisation of youth centres. Under a heading Strategies it recommends ‘identifying their own needs’; ‘involvement in decision-making’; ‘collecting subscriptions’; ‘keys to the centre’. In line with this authority policy, one club, apparently backed by its management committee, extended democracy and eventually achieved a locally unprecedented level of attendance and participation. Then an incident occurred in which young people trusted with keys were judged to have ‘gone too far’. They had held an all night party at the club on what later evidence proved to be a very orderly and tame basis. The young people concerned sought and obtained parental consent and displayed a host of other ‘responsible’ actions before embarking upon the venture. None of these actions were checked out and instead rumours of sexual license and permissiveness abounded. They were hastily considered to have gone ‘over the top’ and their access to keys was immediately withdrawn from them. There was no consultation with these young adults (the majority were over 18, and the party was for the 21st birthday of one of the members). Our position as a Service in the face of an orchestrated attack on our philosophy was to desert the young people in question, and the full-time staff members who supported them, and capitulate before dark threats about club closures and the forthcoming education cuts.
Case 2: THE MEMBERS’ COUNCIL
Embodied in the Programme of Action is a commitment to political awareness. We read under Objectives: ‘Development of questioning attitudes within young people’, and under Strategies: ‘Members’ Councils with power, e.g. finances.’ In line with this policy a group of youth club members from different clubs overcame considerable organisational difficulties and formed an embryo Members’ Council. After visiting a ‘Youth Charter—Towards 2000’ Conference called ‘Making Ourselves Heard’, they produced a bulletin of their impressions which they hoped would become the basis of a local youth council magazine. The bulletin contained a small number of Anglo-Saxon swear words which expressed the anger and frustrations which many of them felt. Response to the publication was swift and decisive. All support and facilities were removed from the young people and they, once more isolated, soon disbanded. As a Service we washed our hands of the affair and disciplined the full-time members of staff who had supported the Members’ Council. No evaluation was made of the situation. Members’ Councils ceased to be on the agenda of priorities.
Case 3: MEMBERS ONLY MAGAZINE
Bearing the Programme of Action’s statements about political awareness and participation in mind, about 60 copies of an NAYC publication, Members Only, were ordered. The magazine contained articles on writing and producing club newspapers. However on its front cover was a picture of a group of punks dressed in their ‘gear’ with one young male giving a V-sign to the camera. Distribution of the magazine was banned. Our response as a Service was to bow our heads and meekly comply with the censorship. What had happened to developing questioning attitudes?
Case 4: SEXISM
In this case a practical ‘problem’ has not yet arisen. We include it merely as a pointer to the future.A section of the training programme proposed a policy of positive discrimination in favour of young women. It suggested the setting up of a working party to investigate the male orientation of the Service; the organisation of a Workers Against Sexism Group; the publication of a GuidelinesAgainst Sexism booklet; and the planning of ‘Boys Rule Not OK’ weekends. At the committee meetings to approve the programme, objections were made to the Training Section’s ‘obsession’ with sex and its trendy sociological approach. Fears were expressed about the direction of this type of youth work. As a Service our response was ‘to box clever’ and to rewrite the offending passage, but seeds of doubt had already been liberally (!) sown. The ’response’ in this case has occurred at the level of theory and we can perhaps anticipate how a practical implementation will be greeted.
[ December 2020 – Indeed tackling sexism within the Service did create all manner of tensions. However the emergence of a self-organised Women Workers Group, the power and sophistication of its strategy and tactics, was to prove crucial to Work With Girls and Young Women moving to the centre of the Service’s practice.]
In all of these cases, it is seductive to define the problem as being one of ‘mistakes’ made by theparticipants: “If only they had handled things differently and in a more sensible way.” This simplistic analysis allows critics of the situation to claim that they are still in favour of social education but not of incompetence – witness their fashionable exasperation with the Tyndale teachers, whose actions they allege have made it so difficult to be progressive. It amounts to the view that anything less than a perfect initiative is too risky to try—an obvious recipe for the status quo. The charade though of support for experiment so long as it’s bland, keeps ajar the refuge that radical practice is possible provided we are familiar with and take heed of the constraints of ‘common-sense’.
But it is important to look more closely at part of the opposition to attempts to implement such liberal documents as Wigan’s Programme of Action. As a group of responses they are not the irrational or erratic whims of individuals, but flow in a complex way from the movement of wider forces in society. As a tool to look at this situation we concur with the concept of “moral panic”, first mooted by Stan Cohen in Folk Devils and Moral Panics (1973), and subtly developed by the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in their Policing the Crisis (1978). At a certain moment in each of our examples a response of ‘moral panic or outrage’ can be identified. In Case 1 the focus was alleged sexual promiscuity; in Case 2 the vulgar words signalled the approach of anarchy and the subversion of moral standards; in Case 3 the punks, folk-devils of the late seventies, exuded a provocative contempt for authority; in Case 4 the contentious mixture was defined as being obsessed with sex and women’s lib, wishy-washy, yet manipulative and deviously subversive. Much of the outrage appeared genuine, although the sexual obsession resided with the critics rather than with those on the stage. However, what is significant is the way in which the narrow moral/sexual concern was expanded into an increasingly broader context in which the future of society was held to be at stake. Thus a particular form and style of educational approach was deemed to be responsible for the demise of traditional values and standards. This is demonstrated by the fact that the response does not limit itself to the specific issue alone, but is extended so as to prevent all further development i.e. not a restriction on swear words but a complete restriction of Members’ Council’s activities, etc. Thus what at first sight appears to be an outbreak of situation-specific moral indignation later grows into a more general authoritarian reaction to the whole of progressive youth work and more! The form is moral outrage but the content is political reaction.
We are not arguing that such developments are peculiar to youth work. Clearly all those involved ineducation and wishing to pursue in practice strategies in opposition to oppression and exploitation run the risk of being attacked in this way. Education authorities do not as a rule smile benevolently on school/student unions, pupils representation and the like, especially if there is any suggestion of autonomous decision-making. As far as the Youth Service is concerned we would venture that the problems and responses noted above are a normal feature of its existence. This is to suggest that workers involved in social education initiatives are likely to be caught in a depressing circle of frustration. It is still sometimes fondly thought that youth workers are less hamperedby authoritarian structural constraints than their colleagues in schools. Whilst it will come as no surprise to learn that they are fettered rather than free, it may be a shock to realise how little roomthey have for manoeuvre; how quickly reaction can come; and how little needs to be done to provoke the wrath of authority. Alongside the grandiloquent rhetoric about sexual awareness; political awareness; and member participation, we must note the outrage that will accompany almost immediately, mention of masturbation and the clitoris; talk of Marxism; and discussion about political demonstration. Stuttering steps towards opening up political issues precipitate ‘moral panic’ and the bureaucratic guillotine.
And where are the mass of youth workers in the face of this opposition to the very life blood of their supposedly unique educational organism? We fear that many are hiding their heads in the sand and we would accept some responsibility for their ostrich-like state, but as A J Jeffs comments,
“Analysis of current practice inevitably invokes self-criticism and is likely to threaten thefragile consensus that service to bind the disparate wings of the Youth Service together,therefore it tends to be avoided.”
So too the ‘liberalism’ that underpins much of the youth work ethos is assessed by Hall et al to be ill-equipped to resist the ‘direct impact or pragmatic immediacy of the traditionalist world view.’
In the light of these reflections we would put a question mark alongside all current liberal initiatives in support of young people. Serious struggles against, for instance, sexism and racism aimed at changing the basis of human relationships are obviously a threat to those who wish to preserve their privilege by controlling the existing conditions of inequality. However the chosen axis of response by authority to such efforts is unlikely to be one of a frontal assault upon ‘equality’, given this liberal notion’s deep rooted position in our culture. The forces of resistance to change are more likely to utilise the dynamic that is expressed firstly as outrage at a particular characteristic of a situation e.g. ‘vulgar language’, ‘nudity’,’sexual excess’, but which is then able to escalate these phenomena into the tell-tale signs of a general threat to the very fabric of our society. In this way the needs of authority and power are presented as the mutual concern of ‘all good men and true’ and ‘anybody with any common-sense’. So too the promotion of even liberal ideas in education is by slides and elisions identified as extremist and violent.
Thus the question mark, when placed alongside these efforts to motivate liberal youth work practice, reveals a conspicuous lack of success. But the tale is not to end here in circular depression. At one level our Programme of Action and developments such as the National Youth Bureau’s ‘Enfranchisement’ initiative are in dire straits. In 1980-81 liberal efforts to advance the status of young people, of the unemployed, of women, of blacks, are swimming against the tide of cuts, closures and the drift to a law and order society. But while it is idealistic and naive to talk of individual freedom and the whole liberal baggage without recognising the present economic base and political structure, it is pessimistic and undialectical to view the present situation as static and without contradiction; the state as monolithic and people as unchangeable. Thus we are now trying to apply an understanding of our failure to our present practice. We ourselves noted in an article in Youth in Society (October 1980) that a global analysis needs to be sensitised by the understanding on a personal level that comes from counselling and group work. So at the top of our list of priorities now is the exhausting task of coming together with our fellow workers to talk about ‘where we’re at’; to discuss why we alienate one another; to begin to find common ground. It is about examining our real rather than our imaginary differences in order ‘to hold hands with each other’, both actually and metaphorically; it is about creating a climate of relative, but real trust and honesty. In short it entails utilising those group work skills, which are our supposed youth work inheritance.
Alongside this we are putting energy into building our local union branch to act as a focus for our political action. Crucial to this development is the building of links with other Community and Youth Service Association (CYSA) branches in the country and with other oppositional groups. But we do not want to be seen to be trotting out empty slogans about collectivity and solidarity. For instance we are struggling to make any contact at all with our local labour movement. Our own cohesion itself is very fragile, but we have made a start at the coalface. That is with our own feelings to one another. We will feel stronger in this struggle if we hear from other people across the country. Such a network of support is vital if we are to create a movement in opposition to the resurgence of repression and reaction that is upon us.
S Cohen, Folk Devils and Moral Panics, Paladin, 1973.
S Hall et al, Policing the Crisis, Macmillan, 1978.
A J Jeffs, Young People and the Youth Service, RKP, 1979.
Of this clamorous collective cry of anger I knew nothing. The mainstream media was conspicuously silent. Perhaps its bosses and editors filed the event under misinformation or fake news. Or perhaps fond nowadays of defining any deviation from the dominant narrative as born of illusory ‘conspiracy theory’ they persuaded themselves that a general strike of 200 million workers in India never happened.
However it did and should be celebrated, even as we recognise the limitations and dilemmas. As it is I discovered the news only because of my presence on alternative web sites, about which I have been warned. These, unlike the responsible and truthful mainstream media, are out to manipulate my mind, being no more than purveyors of propaganda.
With these qualms in mind I hope you might take some time to absorb this description of the perilous situation faced by the Indian people and their inspiring response. The piece is written from a Trotskyist perspective, the tradition through which I was radicalised fifty years ago. It has all the strengths and weaknesses of its political outlook, which I put to one side respectfully long ago. Thank goodness though for the coverage.
On Thursday, some 200 million workers held a one day general strike in India. This massive day of action was called by 10 trade unions and over 250 farmers organizations and was accompanied by massive protests and a near total shutdown of some Indian states. According to the call put out by unions, the general strike was organized against “the anti-people, anti-worker, anti-national and destructive policies of the BJP government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”
The withdrawal of all “anti-farmer laws and anti-worker labour codes”
The payment of 7,500 rupees in the accounts of each non-tax paying family
Monthly supply of 10 kg of food to needy families
The expansion of the MGNREGS (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act of 2005) to include 200 workdays each year, higher wages, and the Act’s extension to urban industries
Stop the “privatisation of the public sector, including the financial sector, and stop corporatisation of government-run manufacturing and service entities like railways, ordnance factories, ports, etc.”
The withdrawal of the “draconian forced premature retirement of government and PSU (public sector) employees”
Pensions for all, the scrapping of the National Pension System and the reimposition of the earlier pension plan with amendments
Workers in nearly all of India’s major industries — including steel, coal, telecommunications, engineering, transportation, ports, and banking — joined the strike. Students, domestic workers, taxi drivers, and other sectors also participated in the nationwide day of action.
In addition to the demands of the nationwide strike, certain sectors made industry-specific demands to fight back against the government’s attacks to their industries that affect the entire working class in India. For example, bank employees are fighting against bank privatization, outsourcing, and for a reduction in service charges and action against big corporate defaults.
Other industries framed their demands in the context of the government’s appalling response to the pandemic and economic crisis hitting India. As the Bombay University and College Teachers’ Union’s statement stated:
This strike is against the devastating health and economic crisis unleashed by COVID-19 and the lockdown on the working people of the country. This has been further aggravated by a series of anti-people legislations on agriculture and the labour code enacted by the central government. Along with these measures, the National Education Policy (NEP) imposed on the nation during the pandemic will further cause irreparable harm to the equity of and access to education.
The article ends on a classic Trotskyist call to extend and deepen the strike, with which I have not the slightest quarrel. Indeed extending and deepening our collective resistance on all fronts to the increasingly authoritarian face of capitalism is paramount.