If I can’t dance dabke in Nigel Farage’s local pub, it’s not my revolution

As the far right steps up its harassment of the organisers of the Beyond UKIP Cabaret, Ewa Jasiewicz shares what the event meant to her

March 31, 2015
9 min read


Ewa JasiewiczEwa Jasiewicz is a Palestine solidarity activist, union organiser and part of the editorial collective of Le Monde Diplomatique Polish Edition.


  share     tweet  

beyondukip2The Beyond UKIP Cabaret. Photo: Mike Kear

When I first heard about the diversity cabaret at Nigel Farage’s local pub in Kent, I loved the idea. It had all the components of a solidarity-building, boundaries-breaching, antifascist action that I wanted to see. It was seeing beyond electoral politics, beyond UKIP, and not just in an action but in society and in the relationships that live between people.

The creation of ‘safer spaces’ that I really came to understand through anarchist climate politics is a cornerstone and filter for organising wherever you are and it keeps pushing us. The moment you think you do have a ‘safe space’ it’s likely that it’s falling short, so, the idea of a ‘safer spaces’ policy and practice is about taking it further, making spaces safer to try and have ‘everybody in and nobody out’. This was the meaning of the action at the George and Dragon last Sunday.

I have been union organising in mainly minimum wage, casualised job sectors, on and off over the last ten years in the north west, south east – including Thanet, Farage’s target constituency – and London. I started organising in 2004, the year Poland entered the EU. Since the cabaret I’ve been trolled on Twitter with racist comments about ‘going back to where I fucking come from’. It’s Wimbledon, by the way, and I’ll be there in about 45 minutes. What else you got? Since the EU became a legal job market for Poles, Polish has become the second most spoken language in England and some 600,000 (some estimate 1 million) Polish people have come and settled here, escaping free market ‘shock therapy’ and poverty in search of ‘chleb’ – ‘bread’.

Cake and Freedom

Cheap labour, wherever it’s from, presents bosses with more leverage and workers with less. It’s competition, it drives down wages, it creates the conditions for racism, anti-immigration sentiment and union-busting. Organising up in Rochdale, we were told of swastikas daubed on the toilet doors at a major hauliage company. Directly employed workers were being undermined by agency workers who were being given overtime at a flat rate, meaning the direct workers weren’t getting extra income they had always relied on. They were feeling a direct economic impact. Some were telling me that they couldn’t afford Christmas presents for their children because all their overtime had been taken by agency workers. Unite, then the Transport and General Workers Union, knew the consequences of the exploitation of migrant labour due to its’ own history of over 100 years of organising, rooted in the docks and Irish migrant worker experience, and organisers took on the task of resisting economic racism at the grassroots.

It was my language skills that got me the work, and since then I’ve been acutely aware of what migrant and British workers in the lowest-paid jobs in the country have been going through. It’s abuse on an industrial scale, literally, and people’s new ‘rock and a hard place’ is being stuck inside a Bermuda triangle of precarious wage-slave labour, the sack and the benefit sanction. It feels like there’s no way out. It’s ‘faster faster faster’ and for less less less. But it’s not just and never can be only about confronting ‘the cost of living’: when politicians talk about improving life for ‘working people’, it’s about not just being ‘working people’ anymore, it’s about the impact wage labour as a whole has on our bodies and lives, our time, our families, our identities. Wage labour for the vast majority is a ransom. Its dehumanising and antisocial by its very nature.

You forgot work and your own body

We will never dismantle capitalism and structures of oppression as long as we do not control our own labour. If we cannot meet each other, talk to each other, have the time to devote to what we find meaningful and fulfilling, sleep well, eat well, it’s hard to see how we’ll end the class system and move towards genuinely socialising housing, energy, land and food systems, education and our climate. Control over our own labour, our bodies and our time always seems to be absent from discussion about ‘the commons’, with the commons being ‘out there’ somewhere and not ‘us’.

When the means of reaching a commons needs to be mass and participatory, but so many of us are too busy working and fearing the sack or the force of the punitive welfare regime, the kind of activism we involve ourselves in can end up being inaccessible and can reproduce structures of capitalism and class within it. If we don’t take down the myth of human-climate value being defined and bought and sold by work, then we’ll never be able to take down the reality of it. We’ll just keep on rearranging the deckchairs on our self-reproduced Titanic and power will never be ours because we’ll be working all the time to give it away.

UKIP friends?

Many of my neighbours are UKIP supporters and I feel I have a lot in common with them. If they knew I’ve been involved in what they think was an attack on someone they admire and their family, they would be horrified, but if they’d maybe been present, and seen what really happened, they may have had fun. The UKIP spin on the day’s events has been pernicious and resulted in death threats. The pub Farage was in, down the road and not where we had our Cabaret, was not ‘invaded’ and his children were not there when people did appear to have entered the pub to give him a leaflet and he certainly left on his own, followed by a woman thought to be his wife.

My role in the Beyond UKIP Cabaret felt like a culmination of everything that ever meant anything to me. Where else could you wear a Palestinian traditional dress with a Clapton Ultras scarf and a Polish anarcho-syndicalist union membership badge? It allowed me to be a trade unionist, Polish, English, anti-fascist, connected very deeply to Palestine, an anarchist, a football fan, climate activist, anti-war activist, a feminist and someone familiar with and appreciative of Islam and its different interpretations.

We’re calling you

Hearing the call to prayer inside Farage’s pub, surrounded by LGBTQ people in feather boas, a Roma activist, a Holocaust survivor, socialists, atheists, people from all walks of life, really listening to it and respecting it, was genuinely amazing. Doing it in a pub you could argue is haraam (forbidden by God) but also fi sabilillah (in the cause of God) so it’s a long debate probably, but having this, present, delivered by someone amongst people being fully who they are, not ‘dressing up’ as the papers called it, was very very real.

So much of ‘politics’ plays with identity silos and ‘single-issue campaigns’ and winning political territory through alliances and compromises. It’s routinely disingenuous and we have to stop and ask the question – does the political activism we engage in really let people be all they are? Does it really let you be who you are?

The Beyond UKIP Cabaret let everyone be who they are. No ifs, no buts. Come as you are. Everybody in, nobody out. The response to the question of ‘Why doesn’t UKIP like us?’ asked from the front mike has part of it’s answer, in material, economic exploitation – a struggle for survival, for safe spaces – as much as it has in culture-making, our beliefs in who we and others think we are and who we think threatens that.

Our cabaret couldn’t intervene at an economic level, despite my Polish language class designed to overcome divisions in a workplace, starting with the basic: ‘Hello – Czesc!’ and ‘What’s your name?’ followed by ‘Are you agency or direct?’, ‘Same job, same rate!’, ‘Down with zero-hours contracts!’, ‘Let’s get together’, ‘Let’s unionise’, ‘Everybody Out’. But I wanted to show that today’s racism has its roots in economic competition and exploitation; that it’s a symptom of oppression under capitalism. Fellow workers aren’t the enemy. The fight has always needed to go back to the bosses and those exploiting the situation, and not for just a bigger slice of the ever melting pie, and votes in one direction or the other, but for the whole bakery, once and for all. Farage and his party don’t offer that.

No more political party conga

The problem is in the ‘solution’ we’re fed. Following a leader, following a party, putting our faith in ‘him’ or ‘her’ is not going to win us real change. That doesn’t mean you can’t vote or be in a party but it’s got to go further than this. The very structure of this process is wrong. We need more contact with each other. We need to achieve a satisfaction of our needs and more through collective as well as individual liberations.

Social movements around equality, work, housing, land, environment, health, education, and freedom of movement are struggling to do this. We need to stop reproducing the alienation and competition and oppression which we experience on a daily basis. And that means really looking at each other and what we do, our desires and our saddness. Systemic change requires a systemic approach; if we want everything for everyone, then we need action and experiences and relationships that can be everything for everyone. The Beyond UKIP cabaret aspired to communicate that.

Total Pub

Another massive help was that usually when you take an action it’s hype hype, stress stress, confrontation, some kind of win, and then off to the pub. This time, it started and ended right there, in the pub, in what migrant workers I’ve worked with call ‘the Englishman’s living room’. Or our living collective living room. It’s true it won’t be a space for everyone, particularly people who don’t drink for whatever reason. But, in principle, if we can’t come to accept each other, if we can’t have queers, HIV-positive people, Muslims, Jews, Christians and people of any beliefs or none, and migrants or any identities, dabke-dancing together, in a pub, then it’s not my revolution.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Ewa JasiewiczEwa Jasiewicz is a Palestine solidarity activist, union organiser and part of the editorial collective of Le Monde Diplomatique Polish Edition.


Jeremy Corbyn is no longer the leader of the opposition – he has become the People’s Prime Minister
While Theresa May hides away, Corbyn stands with the people in our hours of need, writes Tom Walker

In the aftermath of this disaster, we must fight to restore respect and democracy for council tenants
Glyn Robbins says it's time to put residents, not private firms, back at the centre of decision-making over their housing

After Grenfell: ending the murderous war on our protections
Under cover of 'cutting red tape', the government has been slashing safety standards. It's time for it to stop, writes Christine Berry

Why the Grenfell Tower fire means everything must change
The fire was a man-made atrocity, says Faiza Shaheen – we must redesign our economic system so it can never happen again

Forcing MPs to take an oath of allegiance to the monarchy undermines democracy
As long as being an MP means pledging loyalty to an unelected head of state, our parliamentary system will remain undemocratic, writes Kate Flood

7 reasons why Labour can win the next election
From the rise of Grime for Corbyn to the reduced power of the tabloids, Will Murray looks at the reasons to be optimistic for Labour's chances next time

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 25 June
On June 25th, the fourth of Red Pepper Race Section's Open Editorial Meetings will celebrate the launch of our new black writers' issue - Empire Will Eat Itself.

After two years of attacks on Corbyn supporters, where are the apologies?
In the aftermath of this spectacular election result, some issues in the Labour Party need addressing, argues Seema Chandwani

If Corbyn’s Labour wins, it will be Attlee v Churchill all over again
Jack Witek argues that a Labour victory is no longer unthinkable – and it would mean the biggest shake-up since 1945

On the life of Robin Murray, visionary economist
Hilary Wainwright pays tribute to the life and legacy of Robin Murray, one of the key figures of the New Left whose vision of a modern socialism lies at the heart of the Labour manifesto.

Letter from the US: Dear rest of the world, I’m just as confused as you are
Kate Harveston apologises for the rise of Trump, but promises to make it up to us somehow

The myth of ‘stability’ with Theresa May
Settit Beyene looks at the truth behind the prime minister's favourite soundbite

Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.

Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports

On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.

Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns

Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for a political organiser
Closing date for applications: postponed, see below

The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections

In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines

Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences

The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally

Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself


420