Archive | November 2014

Geldof neo-colonialism

Band Aid is shit. Find the original article here.

It’s that time of year again, and in the festive spirit of giving, the aging Bob Geldof has rallied together another juvenile band of celebrities to raise their sagging profiles and profit from another crisis. Band Aid 30’s re-release of the patronising “Do they know it’s Christmas” reportedly raised more than £1mn in the first five minutes since its release to help tackle the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Although this is an important campaign, and a problem that requires a concerted effort to solve, there are serious issues surrounding Band Aid. Primarily, the song is patronising and offensive (yes, I’m fairly certain many people in Africa are aware that it is Christmas, especially those that celebrate it as a religious holiday) and cultivates the archaic image of Africa as ‘backwards’, and of Africans as ‘savages’; unable to fend for themselves and requiring the intervention of ‘white saviours’ to rescue the situation. This neo-colonialist attitude entrenches negative assumptions about Africa, and encourages broad and largely incorrect generalisations about Africans.Ebola-no-Ebola1

Emeli Sande, one of the artists who sang on the record, has criticised the lyrics, acknowledging that they could be perceived as offensive and disrespectful, but highlighting that the intention of the single is to raise money where governments have responded woefully slowly. Rapper Fuse ODG pulled out of the single at the last minute, claiming he felt “awkward” about some of the lyrics, adding that that the track “is quite detrimental to the continent [Africa]” and is a “quick fix” solution to a wider problem. Others have gone further in their criticism. Solome Lemma, who co-founded Africans in the Diaspora as well as the Africa Responds initiative on Ebola, emphasised the lack of inclusiveness of the Band Aid modus operandi, which propagates a “white saviour” narrative. She said: “the song is patronising and negative and it is sad that they haven’t worked with and included African musicians, especially from the countries affected. You have very well-known, mainstream singers, talking about Africa with very little inclusion of Africans.”

Indeed, many African artists have heaped criticism on the song for its negative portrayal of Africa to the rest of the world. Carlos Chirinos, producer of an alternative charity single, “Africa Stop Ebola”, which has been written by African artists in response to the Ebola outbreak, juxtaposed the need for funding to prevent the spread of the disease with the negative outcomes of the Geldof model: “it’s worth doing it for the money and the money is needed, however it comes at a cost and the cost is the way in which Africa is being portrayed to the rest of the world.” Many of these criticisms have been around since the first release of the song in the 1980s – some of these have been humorously conveyed, such as the spoof charity song by ‘Radi-Aid’ to provide Norwegians dying of frostbite with radiators. Methods like this stress the ignorance of many people in developed countries about the inspiring and progressive things going on in Africa following years of negative propaganda, and, even, the most under-emphasised point – that Ebola has afflicted a small number of communities in a small number of countries, and that the majority of Africa is unaffected by the disease.
The notion that a bunch of celebrities devoting their precious time to help ‘poor, needy Africans’ plays up to the ridiculous caricature of starving Ethiopians that the original single spread. Further, it is offensive to the vast number of ordinary people who have donated money to charities like Medicins sans Frontieres, who are on the front line assisting with health care, and the medical professionals who have dropped everything to help looking after Ebola patients, often putting themselves at risk. Those in the UK who donate the largest proportion of their incomes to charity are in fact the poorest, yet Bob, Bono and chums can’t even summon the courage to pay their taxes. Rather than donating some of the $150mn and $600mn they are respectively worth, they would rather guilt trip people into forking out their hard-earned cash on some tuneless drivel that purports to solve all of Africa’s problems. It’s ironic (and not even in an Alanis Morrisette way), given that it’s people like them that are the root of such problems – pompous wealthy white men from developed countries extoling a destructive image of people from developing countries, while contributing to an oppressive, IMF-driven humanitarian aid system that undermines developing countries’ sovereignty, autonomy and dignity.


Radical Housing

Originally written for Concrete: attempting to dumb down the issues and package them in a digestible studenty way was actually pretty hard.

So you live in the Golden Triangle, your bathroom is covered in black mould, you can see your breath while you’re lying in bed – your bedroom happens to have the front door in it – and the landlord doesn’t give a toss. Welcome to student living, right? Well, yes, but there is another way – you don’t have to deal with the torment of numb fingers and toes, unscrupulous landlords or useless estate agents. For those who are committed to communal living as a life choice rather than a forced fact of life, radical housing solutions can make shared living a pleasant and productive experience, rather than the grimy, beer can-strewn chaos student living can occasionally become. Here are just some of the alternatives.

Although housing co-ops are now few and far between, with waiting lists as long as your arm, there are a few springing up. There’s good reason why everyone wants to live in one: in addition to the cheap rent, you can throw yourself in to communal living and benefit from collective productivity – many co-ops feature vegetable gardens, beautiful DIY interiors, political activism and bangin’ house parties.
Living with lots of people committed to the same sort of ideals means you can share ideas, inspiration and skills – there is always someone who can teach you how to fix the plumbing, or cook a damn fine curry. Co-ops are on the up: from our very own UEA food co-op to the (not so) Co-operative Bank, the idea is relatively prevalent and increasingly important in times of austerity.
Students at the Universities of Edinburgh and Birmingham have set up their very own housing co-ops to create an alternative to the extortionate rents charged by private landlords, and poor conditions in many student properties. Next step: Norwich…

Squatters have a terrible name, thanks to publications like the Daily Mail and propaganda espoused by conservative outlets. However, for many people working low-paid jobs, recent graduates, current students, the unemployed and the homeless, squatting is one of few realistic choices. Of course you get a smattering of middle-class political types dedicated to the ‘cause’ but generally, squatting is a housing choice for people with few options. There are more empty homes in the UK than there are homeless people. That is a disgusting statistic.
Developers frequently buy up property and leave it standing empty until market conditions mean they can get top dollar for it – meanwhile the number of homeless households has risen to 50,000, according to homelessness charity Shelter. When people are desperate, squatting becomes an alternative to living in temporary accommodation, hostels, or even on the street.
This may not seem relevant to many students, but with spiralling costs of living, creeping rents, and huge student debt; particularly for postgraduates, squatting is a real alternative to student squalor. Besides, the connotations of squats as horrible, dirty, cold places full of hippies and drug addicts is pretty misplaced – squatters are often more hard-working, dedicated and politically motivated than your average Joe, and if you can deal with the transience and the instability, it can be an interesting way to spend a few months or years.
Living rent-free can be a good alternative to moving back home, and can allow you to save up for a deposit in the ‘traditional’ housing market, or spend time and money doing things other than work, such as building a portfolio, working internships or volunteering.
Unfortunately however, in 2013, the government criminalised squatting in residential properties despite 95% of respondents to its consultation opposing the action, so empty office blocks and commercial buildings are the only properties that can now legally be occupied. This makes the situation more difficult, especially if you’re not experienced with housing law, and the requirement to have at least one person on the premises at any one time makes the exercise somewhat exhausting.

Originally introduced in the Netherlands in the 1990s as a ‘win-win’ market solution to squatting, guardianship essentially means you pay exceedingly low rent to live in, and protect property from potential vandals. This translates into keeping squatters out, pitting desperate people against even more desperate people. Despite the obvious moral challenges this throws up, guardianship can be an affordable alternative to renting, without the potential legal quagmire of squatting.

Why the NBHU is the best

This has been published on the Norwich Radical, and was written by myself and the Comms Officer for the NBHU, Fab.

Bartenders, waiters, baristas and other hospitality workers have one thing above all else in common: we are over-worked, under-paid and misrepresented. We are both bartenders, and we deal with drunken idiots, entitled twats, and aggressive yobs on a daily basis. Woman bartenders also have to deal with unwanted sexual advances and harassment, comments about our clothing choice, and implicit assertions about who we are and what we’re doing there. Despite all of this, we value our work, and we want to do it well – for those that actually appreciate what we’re doing, and for those that are well-behaved and fun to spend time with.

All of these things were important at the inception of the Norwich Bartenders’ and Hospitality Union. Norwich has a pub for every night of the year, as well as its fair share of cafés, restaurants, hotels and other service industry employers. We are committed to a multi-faceted approach to the hospitality industry: we want to improve our members’ skills and create a pool of people who are committed to, and good at, their jobs. We also want to challenge the daily issues faced by workers in the sector – discrimination, low pay, difficult customers, demanding management and limited employment rights. On top of that, we want to educate people in the sector on their rights and represent them in any employment disputes or grievances that arise with their employers. In that regard, we’re committed to forming positive relationships with management, rather than antagonising them, and demonstrating that the NBHU is a collection of workers who really care, and are the kind of employees you want, and need, to run a business in Norwich.

(Norwich Bartenders’ and Hospitality Union)

The NBHU is an industrial union branch of the IWW, one of the oldest and most radical unions in the UK, if not the world. The IWW is committed to true democracy – it is run by its members, and does not have paid officials like nearly every other union. It does not have its equivalent Len McLuskey or Dave Prentis, and it is run by the rank-and-file, for the rank-and-file. At the heart of the IWW’s principles is the belief that workers should be organised within their industry – that means that rather than having a separate union for teachers, admin workers, caretakers, Teaching Assistants and cleaners in a school, for example, all of those workers organise together and are classed as ‘education workers’. Similarly for us, hospitality workers have shared struggles across workplaces regardless of whether those workplaces are restaurants, hotels, bars or anything else, and we feel that we should all organise together to improve our working conditions and the industry for everyone working in it.

As a union, we believe we can produce positive change through collective action. The success of BECTU Union Ritzy Cinema workers in Brixton has shown how this might happen – they recently celebrated a famous victory in their dispute by picketing outside the cinema and winning a 26% pay rise to match the London living wage, backdated from last October. Despite the recent upheaval and job losses, their struggle demonstrates the importance, and power of collective action. This is a huge victory for small workplaces and the Living Wage is arguably another tick on a long list of landmark rights won for workers by trades unions.

The NBHU aims to have representation in as many venues across the city as possible. At present, we represent workers in many pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes, and are labouring to extend our work further. We are particularly keen to represent those who are frequently distant from trade union politics, such as students. Contrary to some of the larger unions, we are industry-specific, and can therefore offer tailored advice and representation based on our own experience and skills. Of course the lack of bureaucracy in the IWW also helps us get things done quickly and democratically, without having to rely on a hierarchical model of decision-making. We value all of our members equally, and consider all of their views on all decisions we make. That’s important to us as a nascent union branch because we’ve got relatively broad-based support.

In our union we have a broad demographic: some of our members are committed hospitality workers, in it for the long haul, whereas others work in pubs and restaurants to finance other things in their lives, such as higher education. We have a wider range of ages, two of three of the rotating committee member seats are currently filled by women, and we aim to be as inclusive as possible in everything that we do. We want all of our members to be involved in what we do – participation can be the best way to build skills and confidence at work, as well as take back control for the workers. For far too long the workplace has been a “bosses’ market”, able to dictate terms to employees arbitrarily, knowing an army of desperate jobseekers will gladly take their place following dispute. Now, in our industry, we are waking up to the possibility of reclaiming workplaces for ourselves, and running hospitality and bar workplaces for the benefit of all, not just the bosses.

Currently we are campaigning on issues that particularly affect our members, such as the living wage and zero hours contracts. More and more large employers are becoming living wage employers, such as the student union at UEA, Norwich City Council and City College, but very few small and medium-sized businesses (including many pubs, cafes and restaurants) are able to offer their employees an amount considered sufficient to survive on: £7.65. In addition to low pay, hospitality workers are frequently denied the security of a contract – while zero hours work may be good for those who require flexibility (such as students or carers), the lack of job security can be a constant source of worry for many. The NBHU is actively trying to campaign on these issues, and other things that are important to our members. Of course, it is about taking baby steps – we’re a young but growing union and things are slowly picking up. We’re committed to changing things for the better in this city. Check us out on Facebook or online

Revolutionary Opposition to IS

Printed in last edition of Concrete.

We’ve heard a lot about the role of Kurdish forces in the fight against Islamic State (IS) – yet the collaboration between Kurdish and Turkish forces is an unlikely one. For more than three decades, the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) has waged an insurgency against the Turkish state in a violent bid for national separatism and statehood. Although originally Marxist-Leninist, and taking inspiration for its three-stage insurgency directly from Maoist rhetoric, the PKK has recently started down a new ideological route, which may have implications for the fight against IS.

Their demi-god leader, Ocalan, was inspired by the writings of Murray Bookchin, who himself was an ex-Anarchist exploring ideas of communalism. The PKK’s new direction is more peaceful and democratic – Ocalan suggests they only use weapons when attacked, critiquing their earlier praxis of separatism and violence. Now, they are all about “protecting our community … regardless of political ideology, religion and ethnicity”, and are considered a “democratic popular militia”. They have widespread support in towns and regions where they have power, such as in the town of Derek Hamko, where they have established People’s Councils based on principles of communal living and bottom-up participatory democracy.

Kurds are the most numerous stateless minority globally: Kurdish people originate from Iraq, Syria and Turkey, but currently have no national soil. Many Kurds support the PKK and its militant wings, the People’s Protection Unit (YPG) and YPJ (the all-female arm), and the new democratic model of ‘municipal confederalism’ or ‘libertarian municipalism’ chimes well with people in the proposed autonomous regions of Kurdistan.

The PKK is fighting for autonomy and national identity, as well as freedom from the oppressive regime IS wants to instate. 35% of the Kurdish forces in Syria are female, according to YPG spokesman Redur Khalil, and many are young; frequently in their teens and twenties.

The female fighters of the YPJ are particularly fearless and unafraid of death – these are women who are prepared to do anything to defeat IS and defend the “revolution of the woman” as well as their cultural and political values. The fight against IS is more than a struggle against a repressive imposing force ñ it represents a struggle for autonomy, for democracy, for equality, for heritage, and for honour.

The co-chair of the Rojava People’s Assembly, Sinem Muhammed, spoke at the International Political Women’s Council about “the threat of a large-scale massacre” in Rojava, an autonomous women’s region under attack by IS. She added “the YPJ is struggling against ISIS on behalf of all the women of the Middle East and the World”. The seriousness of what is on the line, and the dedication Kurdish fighters have for the cause was revealed in recent events. Some weeks ago, reports suggested that rather than fall into the hands of IS soldiers who would subject her to torture and rape, 19-year-old Ceylan Ozalp used her last bullet on herself. This demonstrates something important: this is not just a fight against Islamic fundamentalists; it is a fight for survival.