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The people’s republic of south London
By Jeremy Dear
The unions should be at the fucking centre of it, driving the movement for social justice, igniting the connection between global solidarity, trade unions and what goes on in your workplace and community. If we”re not doing that, what are we here for?” Geoff Martin, lead organiser at Battersea and Wandsworth TUC (BWTUC) is always passionate about the fight for social justice – whether it’s in the workplaces of south London, the sweatshops of Bangladesh or the towns and cities of Palestine and Colombia.
Geoff is part of a team that has dared to put its principles into practice, demonstrating a sense of innovation and campaigning zeal that led Britain’s original Thatcherite council, the London borough of Wandsworth, to dub the BWTUC “the real opposition”.
The BWTUC, my local trades council, is different. It established 20 years ago the Workers Beer Company, which mobilises 3,000 young people every year to work behind the bars at festivals like Glastonbury. It owns and runs the Bread and Roses pub in Clapham. It employs union organisers to run its high street organising centre in Tooting. It has worked with the GMB to establish the fair trade clothing brand Ethical Threads. And in the past two years it has launched Glastonbury’s Left Field – an attempt to bring trade unionism to a new audience.
Geoff explains what sets the BWTUC apart. “We have an advantage in that we”ve been able to use money from the Workers Beer Company, but more importantly we have ideas and commitment.
“Our movement is crying out for a way to engage young people, who often see us as dusty and boring. We”re proving there’s a different way.
“If someone has the principles to be buying fair-trade coffee, then surely they ought also to be a member of a trade union and taking those principles into their workplace. Our initiatives are providing a link between solidarity in the workplace, the community and internationally.”
Fellow BWTUC worker Aiden Grimes insists theirs is not a “freak operation”. “If the trade union movement diverted just 2-3 per cent of its resources down to building vibrant local organisations it would reap the benefits. In many ways it is a failure of imagination.”
The BWTUC can point to a long list of successes. It was the BWTUC that forced the council to build more affordable housing in the borough. Currently, it is seeking a judicial review of the failure of developers to provide sufficient affordable homes at the new Battersea Power Station development. It is the trades council that commissioned and publicised a major report into corporate killers (it picketed local employers as part of the campaign). Its Workers Beer server teams at Glastonbury and other festivals are increasingly made up of local activists. Many of these mainly young people go on to become active in other campaigns (such as the recent FBU solidarity group).
As Martin says: “It is not just about coming to Glastonbury but about getting involved. Who else mobilises 3,000 young people every year and exposes them to so many political campaigns? Once people have worked they are on our mailing list and are sent information about industrial disputes, the anti-war movement and so on. By working they have raised £2m for grassroots campaigns. Through all this we can prove the relevance of trade unions to younger people.
“There is a turnaround in the unions, with the election of more left-wingers, which shows we”re winning the industrial arguments, showing we understand it’s not about cutting deals with the bosses or government. But we”re missing a trick if we don”t roll that out into other areas – education, cultural, political activity.
“We are building this trades council into an effective political operation, building an activist base, helping educate people to take on a workplace and community role. We are giving people a sense of their own power to go out and effect change. In that sense anyone can do it.”
Saving Glastonbury from the music industry
By Geoff Martin
We set out to nail the lie that young people aren”t interested in politics and the trade union principles of collective strength and support. We saw ourselves as the heirs to the radical cutting edge of the Glastonbury Festival – an edge some cynics suggested had been lost in recent years.
This year was our second. Last year was about establishing the Left Field, this year about building on it. With the support of the Co-operative Bank and insurance groups and the Workers Beer Company, we were able to pump up the scale of the Left Field.
With Derbyshire offshoot Clause IV in the production hot seat we delivered what many regarded as the best presented area anywhere at Glastonbury. We”re proud we achieved this from within the ranks of the trade union movement.
Anti-Nazi League spin-off Love Music Hate Racism programmed the first night. The Left Field was jammed and got off to a flying start. The next day was filled with debates, visuals, music and the launch of the Roadcrew Provident Syndicate (RPS) – a GMB section designed to represent bands” roadies. The RPS was driven by Billy Bragg and Asian Dub Foundation tour manager Andy James.
Later that evening we screened the first ever showing of The Last Night London Burned, a film celebrating Joe Strummer’s last ever London gig, and a benefit for striking firefighters. Bill Spiers from the STUC and Davey Patton from the FBU came to speak and ended up immersed in the spirit of Glastonbury. Both have offered to come back as stewards next year.
At the base of the War on Want-supported Left Field tower, the union recruitment campaign was generating huge interest. The “My boss is a bastard because…” banner was filling up with workplace horror stories and, in many cases, good old gratuitous abuse at the bosses” expense.
Tony Benn made a triumphant return on Saturday, and was joined by Bianca Jagger for the “Blood for Oil” debate. Tony later performed his musical set – The Writing on the Wall – with Roy Bailey. Mark Thomas, Mark Steele and others helped punch the Left Field message home in fine style.
Mark Thomas homed in on the sex workers’ union banner, saying that he couldn”t wait until it pulled a national strike and the army were called up to stand in for them.
The deadly serious nature of union activity was reinforced by Francisco Ramirez from the Colombian Miners” Union. He spoke about the routine assassination of trade unionists in Colombia by right-wing death squads. And comrades from Justice for Colombia toured the Glasto site in paramilitary gear, explaining what was going down in Colombia.
Come Sunday, Asian Dub Foundation came over from the main stage to DJ for us and Billy Bragg gave it full throttle to the approval of a packed tent and the NUJ crew staffing the bar. The Ethical Threads outlet, selling nothing but shirts from ethical sources, sold out.
So what’s the message? It’s not just that we”re capable of running and programming a main stage at Glastonbury; it’s that there are ways the Labour movement can reach out to the young people that we need to take us forward into the future. We”ve shown it can be done, and there are ready takers who want to get involved. Young members’ sections in a number of unions are already working with us to develop the Left Field idea and spread it wider.
We need resources to take this on to the next level. The demographics of trade union membership are there for all of us to see. We need to address this issue.
The Spanish state is seizing ballot papers and raiding meetings, write Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte – but it is being met with united resistance
The crunch executive meeting ahead of Labour conference agreed some welcome changes, writes Michael Calderbank, but there is still much further to go
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers
Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project
Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power
What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains
The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali