Phil Scraton reflects on Race Hate and its consequences

In the light of a forthcoming play, which imagines what life might have been like for Anthony Walker, the 18 year old student, who 15 years ago was brutally murdered, Phil Scraton returns to a radio script he wrote 14 years ago. Its argument resonates vividly and painfully down the years.

Anthony: A Drama by Jimmy McGovern BBC 1 8.30pm 27 July 2020

Anthony Walker


RACE HATE

For several years I wrote and presented a scripted radio broadcast for Féile Radio in Belfast. Seven each a year, 90 minutes long, the script interspersed with music. What follows is the final section from the programme: The Roots of Race Hate broadcast in 2006. The programme opened with my experiences of working with the Irish Traveller Community on Everton Brow, Liverpool in the 1970s. In this extract I mentioned the murder of Anthony Walker:

‘At the beginning of this programme I recounted my experience of visiting Walsall in the aftermath of an unlawful eviction in which three young Irish Traveller children died. They were trapped inside a burning trailer dragged from its jacks by bailiffs.


At the time I struggled with unanswered questions:
• under whose authority could a local authority, using private bailiffs supported by the police, recklessly evict Traveller families in the dead of night, killing their children in the process?
• what kind of supposedly democratic, pluralist state – national and local – would sanction such acts of brutality?
• what kind of investigative system would deny that a grave crime had taken place?
• why was there no expression of public outrage, no media concern, no political condemnation?
• what kind of inquisitorial system would return verdicts of accidental death?
• why was academic research uninterested in researching and recording the experiences of Gypsies and Travellers?


Alongside these six key questions was what I called the Henry Reynolds’ question. Gypsies and Travellers had endured violent repression for generations. Why weren’t we told? As an active anti-racist, why didn’t I know?


In a typically lucid, moving and considered commentary on Rwanda the Irish journalist, Fergal Keane looks down from a bridge and sees two bodies, man and baby, caught in the rocks to the side of the river. He writes:
‘I saw that the child had been killed with a machete, a gash across its skull. It did not seem like a real child. It looked like a doll. Or perhaps it would be more truthful to say I did not want to accept that it was a child. I looked again and of course knew that further back along the river, perhaps fifty to one hundred miles further back, an adult had taken a knife and ended the life of this child and then hurled it into the water … I kept my eyes closed and gripping the rails of the bridge made my way back to the car in the manner of a blind man. I did not want to look back at the river, to see it ever again. And on the journey north to Kigali where the war still raged, I kept asking myself the same question: ‘what kind of a man would kill a baby. What kind of a man?’


Keane goes on to talk of genocide, of how in Africa ‘we almost invariably explain such a slaughter as a matter of tribalism’. Naively, he continues:
‘A crazy African thing. A horror somehow mitigated by the knowledge that Africans have always been prone to this kind of behaviour. Genocide prompted by implacable and ancient tribal antagonisms.’ Like many of his fellow journalists and photographers Keane had arrived in the midst of recurring massacre and migration. There was no shared consciousness of the ravages of colonial rule and the exploitation of cultural differences.He says, ‘I drove in from Uganda believing that the short stocky ones had simply decided to turn on the tall thin ones because that was the way it always had been.’


Scratch below the surface of this genocide and you find not a simple issue of tribal hatreds but a complex web of politics, economics, history, psychology and a struggle for identity. Two years later, following his personal quest to understand the consequences of the brutal colonisation of Africa by competing European States and the protracted and bloody struggle for independence, Keane returned to his initial question, ‘What kind of man?’ he responds:
‘I think the answer is very different. What kind of man? Anyone, anyone at all. Not a psychopath, Not a natural born killer. A man born without prejudice or hatred … but a man who has learned hatred. A man like you and me.’

My research into deaths in custody in England reveals the depth of racism within the state and its institutions. Throughout the 1990s, custody deaths leading to unlawful killing or neglect verdicts at inquests represented the sharp end of the continuum of state violence directed towards Black people.
While brutality knows no hierarchy, the killing of Joy Gardner in July 1993, by officers of the Metropolitan Police extradition unit, exemplifies the impunity with which physical force can be directed towards those who resist arrest. She was bound with tape, her mouth gagged, dying of suffocation. Following her death it became apparent that black people featured disproportionately in the numbers of controversial deaths in custody. Oluwashiji Lapite, Brian Douglas, Leon Patterson, Wayne Douglas, Ibrahim Sey, Christopher Alder, Roger Sylvester, Sarah Thomas, Alton Manning and Kenneth Severin became familiar names mourned within Britain’s Black communities. Each died in custody, their families alleging neglect or brutality

As inquest verdicts of unlawful killing began to stack up, actively pursued by INQUEST, the United Nations Committee Against Torture produced a report on its extensive UK investigation into custody deaths. It concluded that a significant cause for concern was ‘the number of deaths in police custody and the apparent failure by the state party (UK) to provide an effective investigative mechanism to deal with allegations of police and prison authorities’ abuse’. Soon after this report was published the Police Complaints Authority stated that the police ‘have to ask themselves whether they are treating black and ethnic minority people as well as they would white people’. Coming in the wake of reassurances from all criminal justice agencies and the Home Office that the Macpherson Report’s recommendations had been implemented effectively, this was a significant indictment of police policy and practice.

In March 2000 the killing of Zahid Mubarek by his racist cell-mate in Feltham Young Offenders’ Institution was a clear illustration of how, within an institution, racism can be ignored or even encouraged. Stops and searches, house raids and wrongful arrests, internment without trial and so on, together add to the experience of vulnerability in communities where institutionalised racism has a long and established history. Racism on the street draws support, even legitimacy, from institutionalised racism.

Anthony Walker died in Huyton, Liverpool just over a year ago. With his cousin, he walked his girlfriend to a bus stop. For no other reason than the colour of his skin he was on the receiving end of a torrent of racial abuse from a young man outside a pub. Frightened, the three walked quickly through the local park to another bus stop. But the racist and his mates jumped in a car and ambushed the three as they left the park. Anthony was left with an axe in his head. He died several hours later. In a climate of hate, to be different is enough to be a target.

To be Black or Asian, is to be other, to be an outsider. With racist attacks throughout England and Wales up six fold, in the current climate the deep seated racism that is Empire’s legacy has once again risen to the surface. And racist attacks are a regular feature of daily life throughout the island of Ireland. Abuse and assaults on the street, people firebombed from their homes, mosques and shrines desecrated. It is a climate of hate that emphasises already existing inequalities in a society that promotes the pretence of multiculturalism.

Working class Black and Asian communities understand all too well the meaning of economic marginalisation and social exclusion. They also understand the historical context of imperialism that treated their ancestors and their homelands as places to conquer, to enslave and to own.
And so it is with Travellers. Like Stephen Lawrence and Anthony Walker, Johnny Delaney was killed by racists in Ellesmere Port in 2003. Johnny was 15 and lived with his family on the Travellers’ site in Liverpool. He was attacked by a group of youths on a playing field. Knocked to the ground he was repeatedly kicked and one of his attackers stamped on his head with both feet. He said Johnny deserved the kicking ‘because he was only a fucking gypsy’. To his family and to witnesses the attack was undoubtedly racist. The Cheshire police investigated it as racially motivated. Two 16 year old boys were prosecuted for the killing. The judge, however, ruled that there was no racial motive for the attack. The boys were found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to four and a half years.

Johnny’s father and mother, Patrick and Winifred, campaigned tirelessly to have the killing recognised as racist. The real concern remains that because Johnny was neither Black nor Asian his death could not be classed as racially motivated. Yet it is difficult to appreciate how the killing could be considered anything but the ultimate act of race hatred. The trial judge’s ruling exemplified how easy it is to take racism out of context, to remove it from the equation, thus denying its ever-present and all-pervasive reality.
Hate knows no hierarchy. Yet Gypsies, and Irish Travellers in particular, remain the most vilified of all ‘ethnic’ groups. They exist at the sharp end of the continuum of institutional and interpersonal racism. In the media they endure levels of racist abuse and stereotyping that would lead to immediate censure if directed against any other ethnic group.


Earlier this year Patrick Delaney died, campaigning to his last breath for justice and rights for Gypsies and Travellers. In the tributes to his work one stood out:
Patrick took every opportunity to challenge the inequalities that Gypsies and Travellers experience in the criminal justice system. He was destroyed by the lack of justice to such an extent that it killed him.

In understanding racist or sectarian violence and murder, the long history of colonial rule and the power it dispersed to its beneficiaries, at home as well as abroad, is central. Its legacy is racism, its currency is hatred and its consequences implicate us all.’

JOIN THE VIRTUAL ORGREAVE RALLY – JUNE 20

Last year I had the privilege of attending, together with Malcolm Ball, both of us remnants of the Leicester ‘Dirty Thirty’ Miners Support Group, the 35th Anniversary Orgreave Rally. On this blog I used the occasion to argue afresh for the significance of class struggle for the politics of youth work – YOUTH WORK & CLASS: THE STRUGGLE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME

Leading a sponsored run round the Derbyshire pits – early 1985? Where’s John Dunn, you might well ask!

We promised ourselves that we wouldn’t miss another one, but the virus seemed to have put paid to that desire. However all is not lost as the virtual world rides to the rescue.

PRESS RELEASE

Join us for our:

VIRTUAL ORGREAVE RALLY
Saturday 20th June 2020, 1.00pm

Watch the live virtual rally, including guest speakers, on our facebook page – Let us know you’ll be joining us at this event – https://www.facebook.com/events/256199362195476/

TACKLING WORKING CLASS INJUSTICES 
UNITED AND STRONG

Every year the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign hold a wonderful, vibrant rally at Orgreave to commemorate the day Striking Miners were brutalised by police at the Orgreave Coking plant on 18th June 1984. This gives us all an opportunity to meet and show solidarity with comrades and friends and gather together with our magnificent display of banners and placards. 

Our campaign for truth and justice this year is commemorating the 36th anniversary of the Miners’ Strike and the events at Orgreave. Covid-19 Pandemic restrictions and the lockdown mean that we need to hold our Annual Rally online to keep us all safe. 

SPEAKERS include:

Chris Kitchen: General Secretary NUM
Eileen Turnbull: Shrewsbury 24 Campaign
Sheila Coleman: Hillsborough Justice Campaign
Jan Cunliffe: JENGbA (Joint Enterprise Not Guilty by Association)
Lee Fowler: Blacklisting Support Group
Judy Bolton and Yvette Williams: Justice4Grenfell
Kevin Horne: Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign
Janet Alder, sister of Christopher Alder, unlawfully killed in police custody Sal Young: NHS Worker and GMB Branch Secretary 

Compères

Chris Peace and Joe Rollin: Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign 

MUSIC:

UNITE Brass Band
PCS Samba Band

Given the dedication at the top of this blog I know that my dearest friend and comrade, Steve Waterhouse will be with us in spirit.

ON GROWING OLD AND WALKING IN RESISTANCE

I was 73 yesterday, no great age nowadays in the Western Empire, at least unti the arrival of COVID-19. Would-be friends ask of me, ‘why don’t you settle for a quiet life?’ Marilyn found this lovely poem, to which I’ll keep returning as the years roll by. The poet is Brian Bilston, who can be found at https://brianbilston.com/about-brian-bilston/

Brian Bilston is a laureate for our fractured times, a wordsmith who cares deeply about the impact his language makes as it dances before our eyes.’ Ian McMillan

Refusing to shuffle, grimacing in resistance to the passing years, November 2019

AS I GROW OLD I WILL MARCH NOT SHUFFLE

As I grow old I will not shuffle
to the beat of self-interest
and make that slow retreat to the right.

I will be a septuagenarian insurrectionist
marching with the kids. I shall sing
‘La Marseillaise’, whilst brandishing
homemade placards that proclaim
‘DOWN WITH THIS SORT OF THING’.

I will be an octogenarian obstructionist,
and build unscalable barricades
from bottles of flat lemonade,
tartan blankets and chicken wire.
I will hurl prejudice upon the brazier’s fire.

I will be a nonagenarian nonconformist,
armed with a ballpoint pen
and a hand that shakes with rage not age
at politicians’ latest crimes,
in strongly worded letters to The Times.

I will be a centenarian centurion
and allow injustice no admittance.
I will stage longstanding sit-ins.
My mobility scooter and I
will move for no-one.

And when I die
I will be the scattered ashes
that attach themselves to the lashes
and blind the eyes
of racists and fascists.

Brian Bilston

Protecting Life, Interrogating Death, Seeking Truth: Phil Scraton, May 27


Merseyside Writing on the Wall Festival

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Protecting Life, Interrogating Death, Seeking Truth

Phil Scraton

Inquests offer the only opportunity for bereaved families to hear and cross-examine evidence concerning the context in which their loved one died. The Chief Coroner’s guidance on Covid-19 deaths advises against inquests investigating the significance of national policies and their implementation, concentrating only on the ‘facts’ of each death. In fact, there is no obligation on care homes or hospitals to report Covid deaths to the Coroner nor to hold inquests. Reflecting on the ground-breaking Hillsborough Inquests, 2014-2016 and the unprecedented jury findings at the inquest into the prison death of Joseph Rainey in Northern Ireland (2020), this talk focuses on bereaved families’ ‘right to know’, and have examined, the full circumstances and wider context in which their loved ones died.

Phil Scraton is Professor Emeritus in the School of Law, Queen’s University, Belfast. Widely published, his books include: In the Arms of the Law – Coroners’ Inquests and Deaths in Custody (with Kathryn Chadwick); The Violence of Incarceration (with Jude McCulloch); Power, Conflict and Criminalisation; Hillsborough The Truth. From 2010 he led the Hillsborough Independent Panel’s research, was principal author of its 2012 Report, Hillsborough and was seconded to the families’ legal teams throughout the 2014-2016 inquests. In 2018, with Rebecca Scott Bray, he co-convened the University of Sydney’s research programme on coroners’ inquests into deaths in custody and is co-investigator for the Irish Council of Civil Liberties’ project Deaths in Contested Circumstances and Coroners’ Inquests. In 2016 he was awarded the Freedom of the City of Liverpool.

Venue: Facebook
Time: 6pm
Tickets Available here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/phil-scraton-tickets-104540657922

All ticket donations will go to: Fans Supporting Foodbanks, South Liverpool Domestic Abuse Services and WoW.

A virus-created radical moment: Not to be missed?

The following piece was written a few weeks ago for inclusion in a CONCEPT Covid-19 special. Its opening is overtaken by events. As I write the unlocking of restrictions here on Crete gathers pace. Yet tension prevails. We wish to mingle, but with whom? We were safe on our island. We need tourism to survive, but do we fear the tourists? More than ever we need philanthropy, a love for our fellow human beings, solidarity not charity, but the virus in the hands of the powerful feeds misanthropy and xenophobia. I’ll try to tangle with this dilemma in the next week or so and pursue my call for resistance to either ‘business as usual or a ‘new normal’within and without of work

A virus-created radical moment: Not to be missed?

I am sitting in splendid isolation on a lush hillside above a Cretan village, where even the patriarchal kafeneio is closed. Outside its shuttered face a group of old men sit, less than socially distant, defying spasmodic police surveillance. A few kilometres away people queue obediently outside the supermarket, clutching in their plastic gloved hands the required Out-of-Home pass and their ID. There are health concerns, even though the island of 650,000 souls has precious few Covid-19 cases and only one death, but such melancholia is hardly new. Crete is awash with chemists, testing one’s blood pressure a daily routine. Notwithstanding the benefits of the Mediterranean diet it’s tempting to note that Hippocrates hailed from hereabouts and that hypochondria stems from Ancient Greek.

Crete’s splendid isolation

There is real fear, though not so much of the virus per se but of what lies ahead. As I write the island is closed for business. The tourism-oiled life blood of the local economy congeals. With cafes, tavernas, hotels, even beaches, empty of purpose, unemployment and debt soars. The Orthrus-headed threat of poverty and hunger hangs in the air. The questions on everybody’s lips are ‘when will this end?’ and ‘will we, do we, want to return to normal?’ At this moment, if assuredly we are not all in this together, from capitalist to peasant, humanity faces a fragile future.

For now, it’s ironically common-place for commentators to write that the neoliberal obsession with the free market and the self-centred individual has been utterly exposed. In this profound social crisis society turns to the public, not the private sector. Society turns to the nurse, not the entrepreneur. Capitalism’s endless pursuit of profit and growth is shown to be at odds with the common good and at odds with Nature itself

Against this tumultuous backcloth what are the alternatives as and when the virus loosens its grip? Three perhaps stand out on the grand canvas.

I. Despite the rhetoric that this is impossible, there will be an almost irresistible desire to return to normal. Even though this sordid ‘business as usual’ has created widening inequality – the world’s richest 1% have more than twice as much as 6.9 billion people – and life-threatening climate change.

2. And if, as is likely, this return to the status quo fails amidst what is speculated to be a second Great Depression of recession and austerity, there is the ever-present danger, as we bow to increased surveillance and policing, that an authoritarian, xenophobic politics with strong men at its helm moves to centre stage.

3. The third possibility depends on us. Are we able to build afresh on the recognition that we are essential; that our labour is the bedrock of society? Are we able to hold onto our renewed community experience of mutual aid and solidarity?

To wonder if the latter is possible brings us inexorably to the matter of consciousness. Do the circumstances thrust upon us herald the fulfilment of the revolutionary dream, the emergence of a people, conscious of themselves as the creators of history? Half a century ago as Cornelius Castoriadis revealed presciently neoliberalism’s moneyed ‘meaninglessness’, he posed the question, “to what extent does the contemporary situation give birth in people the desire and capacity to create a free and just society?”

A recently discovered street sign in memory of Castoriadis Cornelius [Greek philosopher]. Thanks to David Curtis and Noelle McAfee.

Speaking of which brings me to the part that youth and community workers might play in the renaissance of collective, reflective solidarity. At its best, the radical tradition contesting the ideological space to be found within our practice has been founded on critical conversations and supportive relationships through which we are as much educated as those we aspire to educate. This is a dialogue riven with moments of intimate democracy, listening to one another, as the foundation of an authentic public democracy.

Alas, over the last 40 years we have been on the retreat. The agenda of social conformity has been strengthened immeasurably by the imposition of prescribed, predictable targets and outcomes, aimed at manufacturing the compliant and resilient individual. Pressured practitioners have sought to make the best of a bad job. However, certainly in England, a generation of workers in their acceptance of the planned interventions demanded from above have cooperated with ‘formalising the informal’. For my part, the recuperation by neoliberalism of even radical elements in our practice is symbolised by the now ritual abuse on all sides of the notion of empowerment, whereby we accept without demur the absurdity that the powerless can be empowered by the powerful.

In closing, I’ll propose that, as we return to work beyond the crisis, there is a fleeting, unmissable chance to revive our commitment to an open-ended, emancipatory dialogue with young people and the community. It will mean challenging, resisting a return to the managerialist implementation of imposed norms and expectations, the catechism of ‘impact’. Such resistance will necessitate the urgent renewal of our collective capacity in the workplace, through workers’ self-organisation and the trade unions.

At the risk of being melodramatic, this unexpected rebuke of Capitalism’s arrogance and excess marks an opening we cannot afford to let slip by. Surely, we cannot wash our hands of, keep our distance from, deny this once in a lifetime moment to turn the tide of history.

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To find out more about my love of Cornelius Castoriadis see as a starter.

https://chattingcritically.com/2019/12/29/towards-personal-social-and-political-autonomy-revisiting-cornelius-castoriadis/

CONCEPT -Vol. 11, Covid-19 Supplementary Issue, 2020

I’m pleased and humbled to have an article in this special Covid-19 issue of CONCEPT. In the next few days I hope to return to and extend the argument to be found therein, summed up in the final sentence.

Surely, we cannot wash our hands of, keep our distance from, deny this once in a lifetime moment to turn the tide of history

Leave this aside the issue as ever is rich in its diversity of themes and in its range of practitioners. Guided by Mae Shaw’s editorial I hope very much that you will dip into its critical contents.

Editorial – Mae Shaw

This is the first time we have published a supplementary issue of Concept in our almost 30-year history. We were first motivated by a ‘call for solidarity’ from Luke Campbell (in this issue), drawing on his work with a local community action network since the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis. We hastily set to, seeking contributions from organisations and individuals we thought may be interesting, or interested to respond. It was not intended to be representative of the field of practice; more of a snapshot. We are aware that alongside a general sense of dislocation at this grim and demanding time, there is also alarming evidence of differential circumstances and experiences on the ground. We hoped to capture some of this for our readers, and to offer a modest opportunity to record, reflect, express, share and, maybe even generate some small sense of solidarity, needed now more than ever. The response has been very encouraging, and the number of contributions has grown beyond our original estimate.

The now ubiquitous claim that ‘we are all in this together’ may be accurate in some general existential sense, but the contributions here demonstrate how existing social and material inequalities are reproduced and heightened in this catastrophe. As many of the articles illustrate, some people are stuck at home, while other people are stuck without homes. Susie Dalton highlights how home can be the most dangerous place for some women, while John Player argues that a decent home has become an almost hopeless aspiration for many homeless people in Scotland today. For some young carers, as Mel Aitken shows, home can be both a prison and a place of protection and affection in a time of lockdown, with exhausting personal consequences. In the South African context, where inequalities of class, race and gender are more endemic and visible, Astrid von Kotze demonstrates how the residual geography of apartheid dictates the parameters of what ‘home’ means in practice, with poor black people (women in particular) trying to mitigate the greatest threats from the virus in impossible conditions.

A matter of increasing and widespread concern is the extent to which ‘vulnerability’ is becoming a shorthand for lack of personal agency for some. George Lamb, disability rights activist, is concerned about the ways in which the current ‘vulnerability’ script may undo the gains made by the disability movement in their decades-long struggle for rights, not charity, denying the voices of disabled people at this critical time. Some of the same concerns about reconstituting forms of dependency, which have been so strenuously resisted in recent years, are emerging in relation to the implicit ‘ageism’ reflected in much public health policy. Emphasising the continuing agency of ‘vulnerable’ people needs to be a primary concern for practitioners in this field. In any case, if this crisis has taught us one very useful human lesson, it is that we are all profoundly vulnerable!

Making donations and volunteering to help others in respectful ways are important forms of agency, but so too is the capacity to question, and to accept that there will be contradictions. In struggling to make sense of the current reality, and using online resources to meet with like-minded others, Anne O’Donnell is rediscovering the ‘healing’ power of theory: the therapeutic properties of thinking, understanding, grasping, revisiting longstanding analytical frameworks and assessing the value of new ones. What’s more, as Lisa Rigby makes clear, this kind of critical awareness can creatively ‘bleed’ into other interrelated spheres which are not at present included sufficiently in public discourse: ‘…. public/private finance, international affairs, and ideas about health, including around the use of illicit drugs’.

Fear and growing anger about the cumulative effects of long-term austerity on the ability of public services to respond to crisis are matched by growing apprehension about the future of precious public assets. Callum McGregor is concerned that the now commonplace collective displays of ‘symbolic solidarity’ for ‘frontline’ workers do not inadvertently undermine a model of genuine ‘civic solidarity’ which expresses a selective determination to secure more equitable rights and rewards mediated through a democratic state polity. In the midst of such sincere outpouring of public goodwill, it can seem churlish to remind people that the British National Health Service is a tax-funded public service, not a charity – and certainly not a business. There will undoubtedly be attempts in due course to depoliticise this crisis, to reinforce rather than challenge the current ideological orthodoxy. But there will also undoubtedly be attempts to seize the crisis as an urgent educational opportunity; as a warning of even worse things to come unless that ideological orthodoxy is seriously challenged.

The immensely unequal distribution of private goods, gained at the expense of the wider public good, may become even more transparent as vast inequalities of wealth and privilege are laid bare. Tony Taylor believes that neoliberal fetishism of the free market and the sovereign individual has been fatally wounded; found completely inadequate to the demands of the current crisis, as ‘society turns to the nurse, not the entrepreneur’. At the same time, and depending on its severity, the crisis may force a fundamental rethink of what is a reasonable way to inhabit the planet, and the economic and social relations which sustain or destroy it.

Many of the contributions here draw attention to the power of community (in all its ambivalence), and to the creativity, empathy, reciprocity and mutuality inherent in human beings which can be either fostered or squandered. The question is how this critical and fearful rupture can generate a genuine and vibrant curriculum for educational work and action with communities of place, identity and interest. As Arundhati Roy rightly observes ‘Nothing could be worse than a return to normality’! We all look forward to looking back on this benighted time sooner rather than later. In the meantime, if you want to contribute to this discussion, please contact mae.shaw@ed.ac.uk

ARTICLES

POETRY

In Praise of May Day: In Praise of the Workers

Towards the end of a strange May Day, bereft of rallies and demonstrations, I’m posting simply the montage, my dear ‘wooly Marxist’ friend Sue Atkins has put together. However I’m hoping to follow it up with some thoughts provoked by a special Covid-19 issue of CONCEPT, the Scottish Community Education journal, especially around how might resist a return to the normal, new or old.

However in Athens the Greek Communist Party [KKE] under the banner of its trade union, PAME, protested outside the Greek Parliament today with social distancing and masks in an act of flagrant, yet disciplined and heart-warming disobedience. Let me be clear over the years the official Communist Parties have hardly been my best mates, but respect when it is due. The party measured out precisely the necessary social distancing, putting the police and government on the back foot. In the end the state and its armed body decided to keep its distance.

Resisting a Return to Normal and a Call for a Citizen Enquiry: Youth Work and Young People Now

Over the past few weeks I’ve made untold efforts to write something useful about the present virus-induced crisis. Amidst the ‘noise’ generated by a waterfall of articles arguing that neoliberalism, its ideology of the free market and self-centred individualism, has been exposed, I seemed to have little to add and have fallen silent. Indeed the only moment when at least some words came to my mind resulted in a piece for a special COVID-19 edition of CONCEPT, the Scottish Community Education journal, which should appear soon.

It ends.

In closing I’ll propose that as we return to work beyond the crisis, there is a fleeting, unmissable chance to revive our commitment to an open-ended, emancipatory dialogue with young people and the community. It will mean challenging, resisting a return to the managerialist implementation of imposed norms and expectations, the catechism of impact.  Such resistance will necessitate the urgent renewal of our collective capacity in the workplace, through workers’ self-organisation and the trade unions.

At the risk of being melodramatic this unexpected rebuke of Capitalism’s arrogance and excess marks an opening we cannot  afford to let slip by.  Surely, we cannot wash our hands of, keep our distance from, deny this once in a lifetime moment to turn the tide of history.

Obviously this sweeping, even pretentious contention needs more explanation and exploration, which I’ll pursue when the CONCEPT special comes out. In the meantime responses to the Citizen Enquiry explained below offer the prospect of gathering evidence from the grassroots about the repercussions of the crisis on young people and youth work. I have copy and pasted from the IDYW web site. I would urge folk to be involved if at all possible.

—————————————————————————————————————-

What is going on for youth work in these current circumstances? How are young people feeling? What challenges are youth workers and organisations facing?

Janet Batsleer and others (including members of our own steering group) have come together to call for a ‘Citizen Enquiry’ to find out – and document for the future – what is happening for young people and for youth work and youth workers in the current situation. They invite youth workers and young people to contribute diaries for one day per month, starting on Tuesday 12th May. The idea is to contribute these youth work diaries to the wider Mass Observation archive. More information will come out nearer the time, but for now, do get in touch with Janet (details below) if you are interested in contributing a diary, encouraging others to contribute, and / or joining a network of citizen enquirers willing to discuss and analyse the contributions. This is a bottom-up, citizen inquiry, not run by any university or institution, hoping to attract wide support from youth workers. We will be sharing more as the project progresses.

Call for a Citizen Enquiry: Youth Work and Young People Now

We propose to host a Citizen Enquiry through the community-based youth work sector concerning what is happening for young people and what is happening to youth work and youth workers now and over the coming months.

To do this we will need a) a network of correspondents in all parts of the United Kingdom  and b) a network of citizen enquirers willing to join in discussing and analysing what is emerging.  The main purpose is to find out What is happening here?  And what is happening for young people? We do not only want to document youth work but get a snapshot into the lives of both youth workers and young people during this time and the coming months.  So this can include the weather, the atmosphere, the food, the music, the emotions…whatever you want to include you can. We will be making a contribution to the wider picture of what is happening via Mass Observation (www.massobs.org.uk)

We will ask for diary entries each month for at least one day on the first week of the month (starting in May)  from youth workers and if possible also with young people they are working with.  We will also join the Mass Observation diary project on 12th May.  In addition, we invite short reports (memos)  on the following themes:

  • Vulnerabilities and Precarious lives
  • Who is missing?  How is outreach work happening?
  • Crisis points and meeting basic needs
  • What is happening online?  
  • Improvisation?           Emotions?
  • Community networks? 
  • Fears  and hopes for the future of  your organisation/youth project ?

Then a group of citizen researchers from the youth work sector will meet monthly to consider what has been submitted in their area, join a national meeting to see  what is emerging and, after 6 months say , decide on what to enquire into further.

This will be an independent citizen led research project.

Those involved will  be invited to submit their diaries via this enquiry  to the Mass Observation archive at the University of Sussex who are undertaking a record of everyday experiences of the pandemic.  They will be invited to use the ethical processes associated with Mass Observation and guidance of this will be given when people join the project.  

Janet Batsleer  Manchester    J.Batsleer@mmu.ac.uk  (please contact Janet to join)

Christine Smith Hull

Tania de St Croix   London

Kevin Jones   Manchester 

On the Negligence of the Ruling Class: Roy Ratcliffe waxes lyrical

As I prevaricate as to whether I’ve anything useful to say about the present crisis, my old friend and once fellow youth worker, Roy Ratcliffe is on to his seventh response to COVID-19 and its implications. In this one in particular Roy introduces his analysis with an appealing and revealing reworking of an old nursery rhyme.

For the want of…..?

With each update of news since the Pandemic commenced, I have been reminded of a childhood story told to me about how a king lost a war against an invader. The story went something along the lines of; For want of a nail, a horseshoe was lost; for the want of the shoe a horse was lost, for the want of the horse, the rider was lost, for the want of the rider, the message was lost, and for the want of the message the battle was lost. I also remember reading the story to my young children from a Ladybird book and then explaining its meaning to two four year olds. Later I reminded them of the moral when something occurred which illustrated the point from their immediate experience and not something only relevant to childhood fiction.

Surely this moral is, in one narrative form or another, a universal story based on many chains of cause and effect with costly negative consequences. If it was taught to at least two generations of working class kids in a moderate sized industrial town in Lancashire, surely it cannot have passed by the Eton, Harrow, Oxford, and Cambridge trained elites, many of whom sit atop our governmental, medical and scientific institutions. Are we not informed that they are in receipt of jaw-dropping salaries, perks and pensions precisely because they are the most intelligent and far-sighted individuals we have on this sceptered isle?

Perhaps future children should be taught a more updated narrative based upon events and elite incompetence so far but making the same obvious points of the consequences of a lack of foresight and due diligence. Such as;

For the want of compassion – bush meat was bled.
For the want of diagnosis – a virus was spread.
For the want of restrictions – a pandemic was fed.
For the want of protection – doctors and nurses were dead.

For the want of precautions – the contagion went wide
For the want of hand gel – infection came like a tide
For the want of testing – people were herded inside
For the want of ventilators – weak patients then died.

For the want of hospitals – empty buildings were sought
For the want of health workers – volunteers were taught
For the want of truth and honesty – excuses were thought
For the want of an alternative – a bailout was bought
.

For the want of humanity – big-business came first
For the want of a home – some were not nursed
For the want of a carer – many victims felt cursed.
For the want of a conscience – not much was reversed.

READ IN FULL ROY’s FURTHER ANALYSIS OF THE SITUATION at

Farewell Μανόλης Γλέζος : Reading, criticising and resisting to the end

In recent weeks I’ve been trying to write something both critical and useful about the present COVID-19 crisis. My stumbling effort is put to shame upon hearing of the death of the great Greek critic and political activist, Manolis Glezos at the age of 98. Even in his final decade he was still writing, a book on social mobilisation here, a history of acronyms there.

Together with Apostolos Santis, he earned legendary status in Greece on account of their dramatic act – the date, April 30th 1941. The daring duo tore down the swastika from the Acropolis. It had been hung on the ancient monument by the occupying Nazis. In their words they determined to remove the flag as it “offended all human ideals”.

However he was to become frustrated by the attention given to this impulsive heroism, remarking that ‘everyone identifies me with the flag incident…but I had done things before that, I had done things after that, and I’m doing things now.’

Indeed he had. Across the decades Glezos was imprisoned twenty eight times by the Germans, the Italians and then by Greek governments, suffering torture and solitary confinement. At the coup d’état of 21 April 1967, Glezos was arrested as a leader of the Left Opposition. During the Regime of the Colonels, the military dictatorship led by Giorgos Papadopoulos, he was exiled until his release in 1971. Looking back on nearly 16 years of incarceration he commented:

“They say to survive in prison you should love yourself, eat and read. Well I never loved myself, I didn’t care about food but I constantly read.”

His mercurial life witnessed him struggling with the classical contradiction between the price of involvement in parliamentary politics and the necessity of an extra-parliamentary commitment to struggle from below. In fact he was elected to the Greek Parliament on four occasions prior to the 21st century, twice as a representative of the United Democratic Left in the 1960s whilst still in prison, twice in the 1980s on a PASOK ticket, at the time the Greek version of the British Labour Party. It would seem he was chastened by this latter experience, withdrawing from Parliament to devote himself to the nurturing of grass-roots democratic projects and initiatives.

This focus was inspired by his love for the short-lived, but vibrant period of Athenian democracy, which in the words of Castoriadis sowed a seed, both frail yet hardy, for the future. When elected in 1986 as President of the Apeiranthos Community Council on Naxos, his home island, he immediately sought support for abolishing the privileges of the council, promoting the creation of a People’s Assembly founded on principles of direct democracy. Evidently the experiment was successful for many years, before it ran out of democratic steam. It would be fascinating to find out more about its demise, whether, to take but one factor, it foundered on the lack of a democratic commitment within a hierarchical Greek educational system.

He returned to mainstream political activity as the new century beckoned, involved in the rise of a rainbow alliance of the radical Left, Synaspismos. which was to give birth to SYRIZA [The Coaliton of the Radical Left]. The streets, oι δρόμοι, beckoned too. In March 2010, Glezos was participating in an anti-austerity protest in Athens, when he was hit in the face by a police tear gas canister. He was carried away injured. Back in the corridors of power he was elected as a SYRIZA MP in 2012 as the new found party rose to power on a wave of popular, progressive support. Thence in 2014 he entered the EU parliament, gaining 430,000 votes, more than any other candidate in Greece. Once there he addressed the assembled by way of Euripides and Theseus, arguing that the European Union should aspire to the example afforded by Ancient Athens, a free city, free of tyranny and ruled by the many.

Unsurprisingly Glezos was appalled by SYRIZA’s capitulation to the Troika following the people’s overwhelming rejection of a deal with the creditors, expressed in the July 2015 Greek referendum. In the aftermath he is quoted as reflecting,

“I apologize to the Greek people because I took part in this illusion, let’s react before it is too late”.

For now it does seem late in the day. Political disillusionment remains the norm in my adopted country. For Glezos resistance still ran deep in his veins. In 2017 in a scene of unbearable poignance, on a rain-soaked November day, this remarkable man, 95 years of age at the time, paid lonely homage to the fallen of the 1973 Polytechnic Uprising.

Four decades of neoliberal ideology, its explicit encouragement of self-centredness has undermined our belief in the common good. Ironically Manolis Glezos dies at a moment when the collective spirit threatens to rise from the ashes. For now I’ll leave him to have a last word with regard to not forgetting the past if we are both to grasp the present and the future.

The struggle continues,

Ο αγώνας συνεχίζεται

Why do I go on? Why I am doing this when I am 92 years and two months old? I could, after all, be sitting on a sofa in slippers with my feet up. So why do I do this? You think the man sitting opposite you is Manolis but you are wrong. I am not him. And I am not him because I have not forgotten that every time someone was about to be executed [during WWII], they said: ‘Don’t forget me. When you say good morning, think of me. When you raise a glass, say my name.’ And that is what I am doing talking to you, or doing any of this. The man you see before you is all those people. And all this is about not forgetting them.

Manolis Glezos, 2014