Green Capitalism: The rise of Eco Colonialism

We are on the verge of climate catastrophe, possibly within the next decade. Already the UN has acknowledged climate change as a reason for refugees fleeing their homes, islands are disappearing under the waves and we might be witnessing the first of the coming fights over water as a resource.

The world will change irreversibly for the worse due to industrialisation, deforestation and the release of greenhouse gasses within most of our lifetimes. It’s not a nice thought, but the scientific consensus largely agrees with the idea that we are heading toward ecological collapse. Luckily however, the market has thrown out a solution to us, a lifeline in these trying times. Green Capitalism. You don’t have to cut back, you can still get a sports car, but now it’s electric; you can still fly abroad for holidays every year, this nice company will plant trees for you to offset the carbon emissions; you can enjoy your imported coffee; have red meat for dinner as many times as you want- everything is grown sustainably! All your waste will be recycled, nothing goes into a landfill anymore. For a small price markup, you can live life almost the exact same way as before but you’ll be saving the environment- guilt free, and in luxury. 

Except, can you? 

It’s a good sales pitch and I wish that if everyone did offset their carbon emissions and drove a Tesla and used green energy the world would fix itself; but what you’re hearing isn’t a solution to the climate crisis from scientists, it’s a sales pitch from the money men to an audience they know wants to help the world but doesn’t know how. The sad fact is climate change came about because, we- and by we I mean the west- over consume. A lot. 7 out of the top 10 countries that consume the most energy per capita are in the west. While Green energy is growing, reaching about a quarter of all energy generated world wide in 2016 according to the REN21 think tank, the majority of energy generated world wide isn’t green. Even if all energy in the West was green, the energy that goes into manufacturing the goods we import largely isn’t. Until all energy is green, it won’t matter that you have a solar panel on your roof, if the parts in the solar panel have a bigger carbon footprint just from manufacturing than you could ever make by leaving your hall light on at night. 

The best example of this is the newest name in luxury cars, and the reddit of automobiles, the Tesla. Rolling up with the promise of making electric cars cool, Elon Musk’s company has certainly achieved that mission statement. Teslas are cool. They look cool, their branding is cool, their image is cool and one day, when I finally figure out how to jailbreak one I’ll let you know if they feel cool to drive. Are they, however, green? 

Well… that’s less clear cut.

They do produce less carbon emissions than a petrol or Diesel engine. Even taking into account that electricity powering the car might not be the cleanest, as well as the entire manufacturing process, the footprint was still likely smaller. This, however, is comparing a new petrol car to a new electric car. If you were looking to limit your environmental impact, a better option would be to buy a used petrol car. It might not be as cool or as stylish as a new car fresh off the range but the used car has one massive advantage: it’s already been built. The environmental impact of manufacturing has already been dealt, and not only that, but keeping an old car running keeps it from turning into waste. Cuba has shown that it’s possible to keep old cars running for decades rather than replace them every couple of years. Due to the US blockade, foreign imports weren’t an option for Cubans; instead of consumption, maintenance dictated car culture on the island and Soviet Ladas are still seen in Havana today. Cars that were built in the 50’s kept running as a result of Cuban ingenuity and a Soviet design philosophy centred on building a car to last rather than building a car to be sold. Now there’s Ladas out there that outlived the USSR and may even one day stay running longer than the Soviet experiment lasted. 

There’s also another option, one where we don’t even need cars. Instead of every household having a car, or two that consumes and pollutes, imagine a world where clean energy powers a transport system that’s robust, modern and reliable. A nationwide fleet of solar powered, self driving buses. A train system that’s fast and free. A world where no one has a car because no one needs one. The technology for this already exists, what we don’t have is the demand. The market instead has firmly decided cars will stay.

Tesla isn’t an environmental lifeline that’s going to save the world, it’s a lifestyle that’s being sold to you.  

Everything I’ve said has been talked about before. You probably already knew that a second hand car is better than a brand new Tesla, but an aspect of Green Capitalism I don’t often hear discussed is something it shares with regular non-green capitalism- a complete reliance on the third world to sustain itself. The West has relied on the developing world to stay afloat since the days of the East India Company. It provides cheap labour and a wealth of raw materials and things haven’t changed much since those early days of international industry. Not only this, but with a reliance on rare earth minerals like cobalt electric cars in particular have even been linked to child slavery.

Further still, the demand for rare minerals in green industries have been linked as a motivation behind the US-backed coup in Bolivia. Evo Morales himself touted this as a motivation behind the coup. This might sound like another socialist conspiracy theory until you hear it from the mouth of Samuel Doria Medina, the man who came in second to Morales in the 2014 election, in his own tweet. The US-backed coup in Bolivia is not a break from established American policy in Latin America. The same tactics being used to try and topple Venezuela to fulfill the West’s demand for oil are being used in Bolivia to fulfil the West’s demand for green technology. 

The same imperialism that puts petrol in your engine is at work helping build electric cars.

I used electric cars as an example here, but don’t think Tesla is some outlier, or that green initiatives are somehow more vulnerable supply chains that rely on human rights violations. As long as green capitalism is still capitalism and the profit motive and market dictate policy, the need for cheaper and cheaper goods to be consumed en mass in the west will force exploitation into existence.  

We can’t consume our way out of a crisis. The people telling you we can aren’t the people that will lead us through our darkest days. They are salesmen. Green capitalism only exists as a way for the money men to exploit our guilt and concerns over the environment, to sell us more things and distract us from taking any real action that could actually help. Not only this, but Green Capitalism relies on the same exploitation of the third world that our economic system sustains. 

But sure, Teslas are cool.

A Post Police World

You might remember my last article where I went through the history of policing. Today, I’m going to do something a little different than usual for ourselves at the ACU and discuss something hypothetical- what a post-police world could look like. 

Before this however I think it’s only fair that I put my biases on the table and admit- at the risk of losing my leftie credentials- I don’t hate polis. 

At least not individual ones. I do believe that the police service is something that has outlived its usefulness to communities across the world some time ago, that better systems already exist and that- sometimes by design and sometimes by accident- policing has upheld systems of abuse and oppression. I do not, however, as a rule hate polis. I am sure there are individuals that join the police service looking to exercise some authoritarian power fantasy because of an antisocial tendency that they never grew out of; but I also know polis that are good people, that want to help their community and for these people, for better or worse, if you really want to help your community police work can be, if not the only, certainly the most obvious game in town. I can’t bring myself to hate individual people who want to make the world better but don’t have the radicalisation or the education to imagine other, more effective ways of going about it. 

I do, however, firmly believe that for a better world to exist, police need to not. 

If we’re going to imagine a world without police, we need to first understand their job, and then look at what bits we would want to keep and what parts are better left to the dustbin of history. Police Scotland define their role as “improving the safety and wellbeing of people, places and communities in Scotland” which sounds rather nice. Those are, after all, principles I do like and that I think are important. However, police do serve specific roles, like upholding the law and serving the community interest, which are two purposes that can be at odds with each other. 

Before lockdown went into place I had a nice chat with a police officer. We were talking about body cameras, a practice that some reformers are calling for the expansion of, where an officer will be required to have a camera that’s on 24/7, recording everything they say and do. Naturally, I was very much in favour of this proposal and said as much to the officer, that accountability in any role is important, doubly so in a role where you exercise a lot of power. This officer, however, said something that stuck with me: “How many people in the west of Scotland would still have a license if instead of letting people off with a warning, I had to write them up when they did something a bit daft on the road? How many kids would be spending time in juvy if instead of giving them a telling off when I caught them stealing something or vandalising something, I had to make sure that they were persecuted to the full extent of the law? If the camera is on 24/7, I don’t get to decide what’s worth taking seriously, and I don’t want to take every daftie to prison ‘cause then streets would be empty”. I still think police accountability is a good and a vitally necessary thing, although what she had said really hammered home the (perhaps unintentional) point that the community interest and the exact letter of the law is not always one and the same. 

Until the introduction in 2011 of the Double Jeopardy (Scotland) Act there were a number of so-called “cold cases” like the famous incident involving Angus Sinclair; historic cases that had new evidence emerge as a result of modern DNA analysis techniques, that were nevertheless not able to be taken to court as the law at the time stated you could not be tried again for a crime you were already found innocent off, even if new evidence emerged. Angus was arrested in 2004 for the World’s End murders in 1977 and then acquitted; it wasn’t until 2014 and the passing of this new law that he was finally able to be taken to trial and found guilty of the crime he long ago been proven to have committed. Stepping aside the complex issue of the use and morality of prison as a punishment and instead focusing on the issue of upholding the law, we can see here that keeping to the law does not always mean keeping the community safe, it sometimes means letting a known murderer walk free for years. 

Another, less savoury role police serve in modern society is using violence in order to maintain the state’s internal monopoly on violence. Essentially, the only way a modern state can exist is if it is the only organisation that is legally allowed to use force to maintain itself and its property, and it does this via the use of police. 

That’s a word salad, so what do I mean by this? Basically, if you do something the Government doesn’t like they can send the folk in blue to batter you and take you away, you however, canny rock up to a polis station and arrest the polis. This makes sense, it would be bedlam otherwise and most people would agree that if you are a murderer or a violent criminal it’s good when the polis stop your rampage. The Government, however, has a longer list of do’s and don’t’s than just “don’t murder people” and in the past police have been happy to oblige Government directives to cracks down on union strikes, and have turned up in full riot gear to peaceful protests, often leaving protestors bruised, and sometimes dead. The same police force that keeps our communities safe also turned up to gay bars to do mass arrests, fed information to employers about trade unionists for industry black lists  and conducted spying on minority groups that amounted to targetted harassment

What’s the alternative though? If the Government doesn’t have a monopoly on violence, does that mean anyone could be violent? Surely that chaos is worse than any oppressive order imposed on us? We tried might makes right in the past and collectively agreed it was not a very nice time for most people. What if instead of there being a select group of people permitted to dish out violence on the Government’s behalf and to uphold the Government’s laws, police were instead directly accountable to the people they serve and protect? 

I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume, dear reader, that you, like myself are a fan of democracy. If we agree that democracy is good, we can employ it as a solution here. Instead of being representatives of the Government we could introduce a model where every police officer is elected by the community. This sounds strange, until you consider that the people that decide our laws are already elected- why not, then, the people that actually carry out those laws? This would mean that the police aren’t just faceless men and women that act as agents of the state but instead people with names, faces, promises and accountability. The police are not apolitical, each and everyone will have some political inclination even if it’s not shown during work hours and they remain completely professional throughout their career. Would you not rather know if the person walking about your town, upholding the law in your community is ideologically opposed to you? The Police and Crime Commissioner is already an elected role in England and Wales, so why not officers on the ground?

Now that’s a pretty radical idea, and not jumping at joy at the idea of bringing political division into police work is an understandable response. What if you don’t like the government, and think the MPs people vote for are all idiots already, that Westminster and Holyrood are without a single honest person. You agree we need some form of police, but you don’t like the mercenary idea of just hiring people to do it, and don’t trust the type of people that would stand for election just to put on a uniform. There already exists in our legal system a method of selection that avoids the issues that both methods raise: Jury duty. What if the police officer walking through the town was from the town and picked out by lot. No favouritism, no politics, just a lottery, and two weeks out of their life a year, everyone gets a shot and no one gets the be polis for too long. The idea isn’t as far-fetched as you might first think, it’s an old idea. Lenin discussed something similar to this that he thought could have been brought about in Petrograd while he was still in Germany, and Ancient Athens put a lot of democratic trust into the idea of selection by lot. After all, we already have jury duty as part of our justice system, if twelve strangers chosen by chance are a fair way to send someone to the jail, maybe it’s a fair way of bringing them to court in the first place.

What we have discussed so far still falls under the umbrella of reformism, even as dramatic as my proposals so far have been. Let’s say you aren’t satisfied with what I’ve offered up so far. When you say you want police abolition, you don’t want to just fix recruitment and have a better police force. You’re saying exactly what you mean: you want the abolishment of the police. What would we be left with? 

More than you might first think, actually. Detectives, the people that investigate serious crimes are already separate to the day to day officers and CID. They don’t carry out many of the roles that could fall under the term population control and support the court system by providing evidence. What about community policing? Well, we have experimented in Scotland in the past with community wardens; without a police budget to support we would have more money to invest in the warden scheme that suffered more from a lack of resources than anything else. Police, as part of their role, don’t just respond to crimes but also mental health crises- without police who would turn up to prevent suicides? What about social workers or medical staff properly trained and focused on providing the care and support needed in such extreme situations? 

A post police world is possible, and it wouldn’t even take a radical change in society to make it a reality. All we would have to do is expand what already exists to make sure the parts of policing that we need in place still gets carried out.

These are just my own ideas, there are better educated and smarter people you should listen to first but I hope this has maybe opened you up to the idea of what a post-police world could look like, and that it doesn’t necessarily look that different from the world we already live in. The ideas I have presented today have been hamstrung in this discussion because the scope of this article was to discuss the post-police world, but any suggestions that do not confront the prison industry, the mental health system, poverty, legalism, capitalism and statism are ultimately limited to be reforms rather than revolutionary changes in human history. If I got into all of that, this would have turned into a very long and very boring book. Instead, what I wanted to do was write about ideas that are not just possible within today’s system, but could be put into action tomorrow. We already have the tools necessary to build a better tomorrow. We just need to be willing to imagine a better world and make it real.

A Short History of Policing

As a result of the ongoing civil unrest in the United States, brought about by the consistent and repeated police brutality on flagrant display in the past few weeks, the Overton window has shifted dramatically and now we have police abolition being discussed seriously by those in power. Places like Minnesota- the city at the heart of the recent reaction against police violence following the murder of George Floyd- recently unanimously voted to replace their police service with a community led model. The project is currently in the early phases, the motion giving a year to research and engage with the community to develop the idea. With the suddenly very real possibility that we might- perhaps sooner than expected- be witnessing the belated end of a particularly grim and militaristic chapter in policing, I thought it worthwhile to give an account of the history of policing.

Let’s take a look at where the institutions of policing and legalism originated from. Strangely, these are two separate histories; the oldest known codified legal code being the Sumerian Code of Ur-Nammu originated around 2100 BC, while the earliest recorded instance of what could arguably be called a police force did not develop until around a thousand years later, in ancient China as part of the prefecture system. So what happened in the time between inventing a legal system and a police force? Laws were enforced, often brutally, by whatever petty king ruled over you at that time and because of this the legal tradition of early civilisation matched the barked orders a king would give in his court. As a result, most of the laws in the Code of Ur-Nammu would be more at home in the old testament than in the high court; crimes like theft and murder are swiftly dealt with via execution; punishments are dealt out for adultery and sorcery, and finally a good chunk is devoted to when and when it’s not okay to sow another man’s field. These laws would not have been enforced by anything like police, instead the king would enforce them by right of having a local monopoly on violence, with weaker warlords agreeing to enforce them in their own lands as part of working for their king, and the priest caste making themselves useful by dealing with the complex issues of divorce and witchcraft. 

While this might sound like an ideal system, as these kingdoms grew in size, and the king was no longer able to personally hand out justice on the end of a spear, these warlords began to employ other men with spears to make sure their laws were enforced further and further from the capital. In Egypt the policing had a very militaristic structure. Policing often involved enforcing borders, protecting caravans and suppressing slaves. Not exactly dealing out justice for the common man but more so keeping the increasingly complex economy running. The guards of temples however would go on to take an increasingly more civil role; instead of just being men with spears that reported to the Pharaoh, they would be taken into the religious structure as priests. These guard-priests would be responsible for handling religious law by conducting arrests and acting as judges in the Pharaoh’s name.

In the Jin state of early China, bureaucrats would appoint prefects to investigate crimes and enforce the law in their jurisdiction, this is where things start to look a bit more recognisable as a precursor to the modern police force. Prefects were appointed by the state, reported to the local magistrate, had limited authority and served until dismissed, obligations which differentiate them significantly from the warlord-enforcers of earlier periods.

Much like in Egypt, where the early judges would get their authority from the Pharaoh, these prefects drew their legal power from the Emperor, who had appointed the governor, who had appointed the bureaucrats, who had appointed the prefect. It was this trickle down of authority that defined early policing. But what if your society didn’t have a king?

Both Rome and Athens decided they didn’t like kings, and politely yet firmly asked their kings to leave the city. This however left the people of these cities with a conundrum: all legal authority was handed down by a king, so what do we do now without one? Well, in deciding new laws Rome invented the senate, originally made up of the aristocratic families that had done the firm but polite asking earlier, who took on the responsibility of making new laws. In Athens, they decided that anyone could propose a new law and everyone would get to vote on it, and by everyone I mean adult men, who weren’t slaves, or women and weren’t considered metic (someone who’s family had lived in Athens for multiple generations but weren’t quiet Athenian enough to have a vote). 

Now that the boring legal stuff was decided, who would do the policing? Both cities had experimented with a police force but these had quickly devolved into gangs, loyal to whoever paid them. This wasn’t so much of an issue when the king was the one doing the paying- everyone was already meant to be loyal to him. Instead, whoever was willing to put up the money could have roving gangs meting out “justice” in the city. People quickly decided this was a bad idea. So what did they do? Athens came up with the interesting, and incredibly amoral idea of purchasing 300 slaves that were collectively owned by the Athenian state. These men would be responsible for arrests and guarding important events, as well as preventing riots. The investigation part of police work however fell to the average citizen, if you wanted to take someone to court over something you had to prove it yourself. 

Rome went a different path. After overthrowing their last king, Roman culture underwent a bit of an obsession with legalism; where other cultures would brag about their kings, or in the case of Athens define themselves by democracy, the Romans decided they were the superior culture due to their rule of law. Legal ceremonies took on almost religious significance, and in a few instances like designating the legal boundary of the city, actual religious significance. Lawyers like Cicero would go on to become celebrities and statesmen. So how did this city obsesses with law decide to form its police force? Well, it didn’t. The laws inside Rome weren’t enforced by any separate group of privileged nobles or state owned slaves, but instead every citizen made sure the rule of law was upheld. This sounds like a system doomed to fail, and it eventually did, after a few hundred years. Eventually, the Roman republic gave way to the Roman empire, and Augustus established the Vigiles, a mix of police, firefighter and town watch, bringing with them the end of Rome’s experiment with legalism without a police force. 

Now that we’ve taken a look at the early history of policing and legalism let’s move on to take a look at the institutions in the UK that gave rise to modern policing. 

After the Act of Union, Glasgow had started to grow rich by being the main link to the Americas: sugar, cotton and about half the empire’s tobacco flowed through the city. With all this wealth going about, things started to go missing- a crate here, a box there. Eventually the leakage brought about the attention of the Tobacco lords. In the late 1770s the city of Glasgow had been experimenting with its own police force, and in 1800 the Glasgow Police act was officially passed by the government, establishing the City of Glasgow Police. While it began small, only 8 officers assembling for the first time at the Trongate on a cold November’s day, this group would go on to set the mould for what modern policing would become. The philosophy of this group of men was different than what had come before; rather than just react to crime like town guards had done in the past, the new name of the game wasn’t simply to catch criminals, but to actively prevent crime. Another important tenet was non-lethality, which saw these men armed with a lantern and a long stick as opposed to a pistol or sword. If things got rough the idea was people left with bruises not bullet wounds. Finally each officer was given a badge with a numbered ID, a distinctive uniform and a 24 hour rotating rota. 

The success of the Glasgow model would not go unnoticed by the rest of the Empire. Soon other towns in Scotland had adopted a similar force to patrol 24 hours a day, and by 1822 Ireland would go onto found its own police force, the Royal Irish Constabulary. 

London was having similar troubles to Glasgow in the late 1790s, a bustling port with no one to watch over it resulting in a leakage of stock. The merchants of the capital were fuming, and decided to form groups like the Thames River Police. Much like in Glasgow these proved incredibly successful in protecting shipping cargo, however this was not to last. Soon, London was in the thrall of the industrial revolution, and the city, which was already massive, began to expand even faster as people from the countryside migrated for work. Robert Peel, home secretary at that time decided now was the time to reform all the volunteer and private police forces into something modern and capable of maintaining order in the city. Metropolitan Police Act was passed in 1829 and this force would take on a lot of what had made the Glasgow City Police a success, there was a focus on visibility to deter crime, and because of the cities distaste for the French Model, which was heavily militarised, the Met had a big focus on being civilians policing civilians. This model eventually spread throughout the empire and commonwealth, influencing policing across the world, from Hong Kong to Delhi to Vancouver. 

Across the pond in America, however, policing grew out of a different tradition. The early colonies had a police force that was organised around elected officials called sheriffs, who would then raise a volunteer militia from within the community to police the community. This all sounds rather idyllic- democratic accountability, community focused recruitment- so what went wrong? Well, the modern American police force is not descended from this volunteer group. Instead the men that would be the foundation for policing in America were slave catchers. Places like Carolina heavily depended on slavery to maintain their economy and out of fear of a slave rebellion the men of wealth created groups like the Charleston Guard and Watch. Salaried professional police that had a distinctive uniform, these figures laid the foundation of police work in America. These men were given a strict chain of command, sole authority for policing in their jurisdiction and given the right to use force as they deemed fit. They also took on the lessons from the UK about preventative policing, but with a focus on preventing slave uprisings rather than petty crime. Their role was more similar to the ancient’s way of executing authority and population control rather than anything worth praising. 

Looking at the history of policing it seems its historic role is at odds with how we imagine the role of policing today. Instead of being about protecting people the ancients, like in Egypt, used policing as a method of population control and a way of exerting central authority into places the Pharaohs could not reach themselves. Further we can see that the idea of legalism hasn’t always been married to a police force, in both Athens and Rome the existence of a police force was seen not only as unneeded to enforce law and order but also as anathema to democracy. In modern policing’s foundation we also see a divorce from the ideal that policing is about protecting and serving the public. Instead these early forces were formed by the wealthy classes to stop their property going missing, and in the case of America, that property was sometimes people. Next time we’ll take a look at how a modern society could function without a police force. 

Minneapolis riots

No doubt you’re aware of the events currently unravelling in Minneapolis and now across other American cities. With so much noise and confusion on the subject we at the ACU thought we would do our best to provide our readers a timeline of the causes and responses to this wave of civil unrest that has swept across the United States. 

On the 25th of May police were called to Cup Foods– a supermarket in Minneapolis- as it was reported by the teenage clerk behind the counter that a man by the name of George Floyd had attempted to use a fake $20 bill to pay for his groceries. It was never proven if this $20 bill was a forgery or not. When the police arrived on the scene four officers restrained George after pulling him out of his car. The police force would later claim that George was resisting arrest, a claim which has not been backed up by any video evidence, but bystanders did manage to capture the image of Derek Chauvin- one of the arresting officers- kneeling on George’s neck. During the film George repeatedly pleaded that he could not breath, and eventually lost consciousness. The crowd can be heard begging the officers to let him up at this point, with people pointing out that he was not resisting and that he had a bleeding nose. Officer Chauvin did not respond to these pleas and instead kept his knee on George’s neck for a total of 8 minutes; he did not release his grip on the man’s neck until 7 minutes after George had started gasping for air, 6 minutes after the crowd had started to beg for the man’s life and 3 minutes after George had lost consciousness. Instead Derek put his hands in his pockets and maintained the choke hold that would take George’s life, with three officers in support who at no point acted to prevent their colleague from murdering George Floyd. George never regained consciousness from the police assault and died from his injuries in hospital. 

The video of this incident would go viral and strike a chord with many communities across America, with its brutal similarity to the racially charged murder of Eric Garner (17 July 2014), where Eric also repeatedly said on video that he could not breathe as police officers used a chokehold to bring him to the ground. He was also pronounced dead at a hospital hours later. 

The local government in Minneapolis was quick to respond to the outcry and all four officers involved in the arrest of George Floyd have been fired. The mayor of Minneapolis, Jacob Frey released a press statement on how the incident showed just how far America still has to go in terms of racial equality. The same day, members of George Floyds family began to push for the four former police officers to be charged with murder, feeling that simply firing these individuals did not go far enough to deliver justice. The next day Mayor Frey would add his voice to this demand for justice.

By the 28th of May prosecutors were still undecided on whether or not to charge Derek Chauvin for the murder of George, and as a result of this indecision and the slow action of authorities, protests began in the city, in front of the police station. Similar protests in support also got underway in other cities across America. Once these peaceful protestors had been outside the police station for nearly half a day, the police force opened fire into the crowd with tear gas canisters and rubber bullets. 

The next day, President Trump tweeted out several things regarding the protests, including calling the protestors thugs, offering the support of the military to the Governor of Minnesota Tim Walz and ending by quoting Miami police Chief Walter Headley from the 60’s- a man famous for his bigotry and racism to the black community in Florida- saying, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts”. This, alongside the violent police response the day before and the release of information showing that Derek had been involved in 18 police complaints– including one involving the shooting of another person of colour- only raised passions further. 

In the most decisive blow ever struck by Liberalism against the Trump administration, Twitter, seeing the reckless incitement to violence of the commander-in-chief, decided to… put a warning tag on the tweet.

On the same day another video became public as a CNN news crew was arrested live on TV. The video showed the black newsman asking multiple times if where they were standing was okay with the police, while showing his media pass. The police never responded and then put the man under arrest whilst not reading him his rights. The entire crew was released later that day but the incident only served to further distance the police from public sympathy by highlighting another incident where they broke the law to put yet another black person under arrest without cause. 

This was the day that Derek Chauvin was finally put under arrest. He had been in police custody from the night of the incident, but this was actually a police protection measure as there had been credible threats on his life, rather than as part of any formal criminal proceedings: where he had previously been treated like a witness under protection, he was now being treated as a murder suspect. However, another point of contention emerged as the charges were revealed; third degree murder and manslaughter, without any of the other arresting officers being formally charged. The charge of third degree murder- essentially murder without foreknowledge, malice or intent- became especially difficult to justify when it emerged that Derek had known George for 17 years, having previously worked in security with each other. 

Protesters again took to the streets and this time burnt down a police precinct, after looting and redistributing goods from a Target supermarket. 8pm on Friday, Mayor Frey declared a curfew that started at 8pm that night. 

Saturday began with Trump threatening to use the national guard to suppress civil unrest; a terrifying prospect for anyone concerned about human life, out of the 12 times this has happened previously in American history, 10 of these times had been in response to black communities protesting state violence and 8 of these deployments resulted in the National Guard using firing on American citizens. Trump’s words clearly had the desired effect as later last night the Governor released a statement that 80% of those arrested had come from outside of his state, a claim unsupported by arrest records, which show that those arrested were predominantly from inside Minnesota and Minneapolis. This false pretext has since been used to justify the full mobilisation of the National Guard. At the time of writing, no one has yet been killed, but with 2500 troops heading into the state, with maybe 12000 more mobilised across the US- ostensibly to assist in the coronavirus pandemic response– this looks likely to change knowing the historic reputation of the Guard.

We at the ACU would like to encourage readers to support the protests in any way they are able. For those of us watching across the world, the most easily accessible avenue for support will be the Minnesota Freedom Fund.

James Connolly

This week was the 104th Anniversary of James Connolly’s death at the hands of the British State and I thought it would be worth looking into why this man is still seen as a hero to many in both the UK and Ireland, while others say his name with venom on their tongues.

 

There’s a lot that’s been said about James Connolly; that he was a hero of the international working class, that he was a radical thinker and reformer and a brave man that would put himself in the line of fire before any of the men under him. Yet others view him differently, believing him a traitor, a deserter, a failed rebel, and- worst of all- a Hibs fan. You’ll be hard pressed to find a neutral voice that speaks about the man these days.

 

Connolly’s story starts in Edinburgh, in 1868. Born in Cowgate to two Irish immigrants, James didn’t have an easy start to life. He was born into poverty, Cowgate at that time being little better than a slum (how things change) and only had formal education at the local Catholic School until the age of 11, when he left school to look for work. At the age of 14 James, like his older brother before him, signed up with the British Army, lying about his age in an attempt to escape the economic conditions he had been born into. 

 

For the next 6 years James served in the Royal Scots Regiment, spending most of his military career in Ireland. This wasn’t an easy time for folk in Ireland (When has it ever been when British troops were marching through it?), especially in the rural communities outside of the city, where the majority of the Irish population at the time lived. Rents were high, and by design of the British more and more Irish land fell into fewer and fewer hands. Most of these landlords were also absentees, not even living in the land that they taxed so heavily. This meant that the money taken out of these communities weren’t reinvested in the hamlets, most of the time this rent money left Ireland all together. By the time Connolly was serving in Ireland the people of the hamlets had had enough of being treated like a tax farm and the Land War had begun. 

 

The Land War was Connolly’s first introduction into Irish politics, and even as a young British soldier, he found himself arguing for the cause of the tenant farmers. This confrontation with the realities of British policy in Ireland might have served as a catalyst not only for his political development but also for his growing bitterness with the British Army. When it came out that his regiment would be redeployed to India, to do much of the same work that he did in Ireland, Connolly deserted, preferring this to acting as a lackey for British landlords. 

 

Though his time in the army was over Connolly left with two important lessons. First of all he learned that he was a good soldier, secondly that he fucking hated the British armed forces.  

 

When James returned to Edinburgh he brought with him his new wife Lillie and they soon tried to settle into a quiet life. James took up a job as a cobbler but patched it after a few months, as he had no talent for the job. It was about this time as well that he again followed in his older brother’s footsteps and became politically active, joining the Scottish Socialist Federation and like his brother before him, he eventually became the party secretary. The party would eventually merge and be absorbed into the Independent Labour Party. Connolly, however, headed back to Ireland, this time to take up a paid role within the Dublin Socialist Club rather than as part of an occupying army. Here he transformed the club into the Irish Socialist Republican Party turning the group from a couple of people meeting in pubs every so often to discuss politics over pints into Ireland’s first socialist party. This party would go on to run in elections, print its own paper and even represent Ireland at the Second International. While the party was never large and would eventually fall into political infighting, it marked an important stage in Irish politics and showcased Connolly’s skills as an organiser. 

 

Connolly would, through a mixture of frustration at his own party and economic need eventually leave Ireland again, this time for America. Here he joined the IWW and was most active in pushing his syndicalist ideology. Syndicalism is a brand of socialism that focuses on workplace democracy and autonomous organisations. Aiming to bring his ideology into action he worked with both the Irish and Italian American communities to agitate for better working conditions, making sure to bring in as many different communities in New York together as part of his internationalist ideology that hammered home the need for a united struggle, across ethnic and nationalist lines. To this end, he founded groups like the Irish Socialist Federation, which aimed to raise class consciousness in immigrant communities through education and material help.

 

After nearly 7 years in America, Connolly once again returned to Ireland, organising workplaces and- in what was now becoming a lifelong habit- founding yet another political organisation in the Irish Labour Party in 1912. In 1913, in response to the Dublin Lockout, James gathered other former officers and soldiers from the British army and formed the Irish Citizen Army. A small but well disciplined and regimented group of workers who tasked themselves with defending strikers from the Dublin Met. This hardened corps of radical workers eventually formed the nexus of a growing organisation that would expand its aims from simply the improvement of working conditions for Irish workers to an Independent Socialist Republic. Soon, this group would have their chance at this goal, as WW1 broke out and distracted the British Empire. 

 

James was adamantly against this war, arguing it was just imperialism being played out. He didn’t want the sons of England or son’s of Germany dying in a pointless war, and he certainly didn’t want sons of Ireland dying for England’s pointless war. Under a call of “Neither King nor Kaiser” James decided now was the time to organise for freedom. Along with nationalist groups like the Irish Volunteers and Irish Republican Brotherhood, Connolly plotted a rebellion. In the ultimately doomed Easter Uprising Connolly’s organisational prowess came to the forefront again. As Commandant of the Dublin Brigade, he had a massive sway over the entire rising. Not only did he show genius in planning but he again and again put his life at risk to make sure his men were safe. With only 9 men in his garrison actually dying, his efforts were not for nothing. But despite these valiant efforts James himself was fatally wounded. Out of commission while getting treatment for his wound, he nevertheless remained the brains behind the uprising, organising patrols, reinforcements and resupplies even as doctors worked on him.

 

Eventually the writing was on the wall, and James, along with the other leaders of the rebellion agreed to a surrender. Unwilling to continue a doomed fight that would cost the lives of his men he would say his line “Don’t worry. Those of us that signed the proclamation will be shot. But the rest of you will be set free”.

 

A few days later, on the 12th of May 1916 the British state executed Connolly by firing squad. So afraid of what he represented they would tie a dying man to a chair, shoot him and then bury him in an unmarked mass grave. This act would turn many who had been neutral on the issue against the British state, both in Ireland and the rest of the world. James Connolly never lived to see his life’s work, but eventually Dublin would be free from British rule, and the role James played as an organiser and his martyrdom were important steps on that long path to freedom.

 

How do we judge James’s impact? When we look at Connolly’s legacy do we look to Ireland today as a measure of the man? Nationalism, or at least national liberation, was a big part of the man’s outlook on the world. Considering he gave his life for this cause it’s fair to say it was something he held deeply. This is not to say his syndicalist, internationalist ideals meshed with this part of his politics easily. He flirted with Esperanto, a communal European language, and did believe in the need for a universal language. While he did support the reintroduction of the Irish language he viewed capitalism as a far more pressing threat to the Irish than the English language, after all, he said “You cannot teach starving men Gaelic”. Further still he painted Daniel O’Connell, widely held as a hero by nationalists not as a liberator of the Irish but instead an enemy of the working class. 

 

Ireland, at least part of it, stands independent, but you cannot argue that James achieved the syndicalist paradise he had envisaged all those years ago. After his death figures like Éamon de Valera rose to prominence, and left a much deeper impact on the Irish political landscape than Connolly would have liked. Courageous Syndicalism instead was replaced by cynical Conservatism, with the Republic being left to choose between two different cheeks of the same Tory arse in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. A quote that always sticks with me from Connolly is “Nationalism without Socialism is only national recreancy. It would be a declaration that our oppressors had succeeded in inoculating us with their perverted conceptions of justice and morality, and no longer needed an army to force them upon us.”. Looking at Dublin’s transformation into a petty kingdom of landlord despots, it’s hard to imagine Connolly being happy with the state of Ireland today. 

 

James, I would argue, left a far deeper mark on the traditions of the European left. He stands as a rare figure broadly praised by all major branches of leftist tradition, somewhat like Rosa Luxemburg. Lenin, on greeting James’s son after his father’s death, said that he had held Connolly as head and shoulders above the rest of his contemporaries in the European socialist movement, and Glasgow’s own James McLean cited Connolly as an inspiration for his own trade unionist movement.

Audrey and the Dutch Resistance

Audrey Hepburn. The name alone conjures up images of elegance and the romance of old Hollywood. Being one of the few people to win an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony award there is no question why Audrey is so tied to the golden age of American Cinema.

But before she was a world famous actress Audrey lived another, altogether quite different life providing support for the Dutch resistance during The Second World War.

In 1939, when Audrey was just 10 years old, Britain declared war on Germany and soon Hepburn and her mother were fleeing to the Netherlands from their native Belgium. Hoping that this war would play out like the Great War before it, where the Dutch managed to maintain their neutrality, Audrey and her mother set up shop in Arnhem. This plan to avoid the war would unfortunately fall apart, as the Nazis invaded the Netherlands less than a year later.

By all accounts, this occupation was brutal. Audrey herself said that “had we known that we were going to be occupied for five years, we might have all shot ourselves”, going on to say that the only thing that kept them motivated was the belief that the war was constantly just a few weeks from ending.

Audrey’s family, being privileged Dutch aristocrats were not spared from Nazi cruelty; her half brother was be deported to a Berlin work camp and in 1942 her uncle would be assassinated by the Germans for his support of the nascent resistance movement. This would prove to be a pivotal moment for Audrey and her mother, and both fought desperately against giving in to nihilism, leading them to take up their uncles cause and support the resistance from that moment on.

This was a surprising change of heart for Audrey’s mother especially, who had previously openly supported fascism; she wrote columns in support of Mosley’s Union of Fascists in paper “The Black Shirt”, joined the far right movement and even personally met with Hitler. This was all done alongside Audrey’s father, who had abandoned the family years before the war. He had also been an avid supporter of the far right ideology, but for him there would be no redemption or renunciation. He spent the entire war in prison for his support of the Third Reich. 

 

Audrey eventually fell in with Dr. Visser ’t Hooft, a charismatic and intelligent leader of the local resistance. Taking the young rebel under his wing, he later described her as his star pupil. It was under the doctor’s encouragement and urging that Audrey, who had studied ballet in England, would have her strange entrance into the performing arts. In an attempt to raise morale and funds for the resistance, Audrey set up the “Black Evenings”, secret dance shows and charity evenings. These were highly illegal and if caught, the audience, performers and organisers would all likely be facing down a Nazi rifle squad. To hide the events they were often performed in basements, with blacked out windows, thus the name, and audiences weren’t allowed to cheer or clap. Audrey said later in life say “the best audiences I ever had made not a single sound at the end of my performance”.

This is an image that stuck with me after reading on the subject: a young girl with barely enough food in her belly to keep the pangs of hunger away, dancing her heart out to a silent audience, hidden away from the prying eyes of the evil occupying force. A young girl that, during peacetime, should have been in school instead literally pushed onto centre stage through grief and loss to put on performances in an attempt to keep the flicker of hope alive.

These funds were sorely needed by the resistance, who had been carrying out various anti German acts, one of the most famous being the bombing of a public records office by Willem Arondeus, who hoped to protect Dutch Jews by making it much harder for the Nazis to track them down. Among their other activities was an underground railroad for escaping Dutch Jews, dissidents and captured allied airmen. Audrey would play a part here too; the resistance made use of young members to pass around messages and supplies as children and teenagers could get around without provoking the notice of the occupiers. In 1944, Audrey- playing the part of messenger for the resistance- supplied food to downed airmen hiding in the Dutch woods under cover of night. 

 

In that same year, Nazis would subject the Netherlands to their worst cruelty yet: aiming to punish the Dutch for helping the allies, the Germans cut off food supplies to the already impoverished and starving country. The Dutch Winter of Hunger had begun. Starvation swept the nation and millions were affected, Audrey among them. At this time she was just a teenager and the lack of food severely affected her development throughout the rest of her life. The young girl who danced for silent audiences would never grow up to be the ballerina she had dreamed of being when she had started to dance all those years ago in England. 

As we know, Audrey still found success, albeit as an actress instead of a dancer. Her acting career brought her the chance to meet a fellow survivor of the occupation, Otto Frank, father of Anne Frank. Otto met with Audrey hoping to convince her to play Anne in a film about the Dutch girl’s life. He had been inspired by the role Audrey had played during those long years of struggle, although ultimately Audrey turned down the offer. She said she had felt connected to the young girl after reading her diaries, saying that “it’s a little bit as if this had happened to my sister”. She wouldn’t be able to give Anne the performance she deserved, feeling she would be overcome with grief. 

Outside of her incredible acting career, Audrey became a UNICEF ambassador, travelling the world even as she suffered from cancer. Peace was important to her, in the way that it often is for survivors of war.

On the evening of 20 January 1993, in her home in Switzerland, Audrey Hepburn passed away peacefully in her sleep. 

I find it strange, especially so after researching more on the topic of her life, that Audrey Hepburn- so emblematic of the glamour of the movies- inspires me more by the story of her own life than by any story she starred in on the silver screen. Audrey is rightfully remembered as one of the greatest actors to have ever lived, but I think we should also remember her as the young girl, who refused to give into fear, dancing to a silent audience.

Scotland and the Black Death

Recently we’ve focused a lot on Covid-19 and the ramifications it’s already having for our society but this week I thought we would take a step back from the ongoing pandemic and instead focus on something a bit lighter – the Black Death

Our story starts in 1348, when the Black Death first arrived in England. 1348, simply put, was not a great time to live in Britain. The Second War of Scottish independence had already been  raging for over a decade, and England had been embroiled in the Hundred Years’ War for nearly as long. On top of this, the common people of the towns and villages were also suffering under high taxes, little food and failed harvests. Life was pretty bleak, but it was about to get a lot worse. 

It was Bristol that would be first hit. A vibrant trading port that had until that time remained untouched by war or famine; instead it was the third horseman of the apocalypse, pestilence, that would leave its mark here. Before the plague Bristol was the second largest city in England, taking silver place only to London, but when the plague hit, Henry Knighton, a monk who recorded the history of the plague described the city as being devastated, saying “almost the whole strength of the town perished” and transforming, almost over night from a city full of life and joy and trade, to a city of corpses where the few survivors didn’t have the strength or numbers to bury the deceased. This, unfortunately, was only a taste of things to come for the rest of the Isles. 

By 1349 London would follow in Bristol’s grim footsteps, and alongside the Back Death, Pneumonic Plague would also ravage the city. This outbreak would take thousands upon thousands of lives, the plague would also break up Parliament and take the lives of at least three Archbishops of Canterbury greatly weakening the English Kingdom’s feudal management.

All this chaos was not unnoticed in the court of King David the Second of Scotland, and many argued the plague was God’s wrath on the English for… well being English. It’s not hard to see how the calamity could be seen to have had a hand of the divine, wherever the plague went it left biblical destruction. Further still, the Scottish nobility argued that because Scotland had remained untouched, this showed that God had picked a side in the war, the Scottish side. It was decided that rather than lay back and watch the southern kingdom burn Scotland would take an active hand in the chaos, and push its advantage to win the war. After all, god had clearly decreed the end times for England, it was their Christian duty to see his will acted. 

The Scots at this point were resurgent, they had already pushed Edward the Third’s armies out of Perth and Fife, and now a great host assembled to invade England itself. When news of this approaching army reached Durham the plague stricken town burst into riots. This incursion, however, was ultimately doomed and the Scots were routed in battle, soon the Scottish army was in full retreat back home. To add to the misery of defeat, among the fleeing soldiers and levies the plague lurked and soon Scotland would be hit with the same divine wrath that the English had suffered. 

Though Scotland was less vulnerable than England, lacking the centralised population centres that England had developed in the centuries prior, the pestilence still took a dire toll. Exact numbers aren’t recorded but what is known is that cities like Edinburgh were devastated, losing nearly half of their population. By the end of the outbreak some estimate almost half the population of the Island would succumb to the disease.

So, you might be asking, why have I chosen to bring to attention this particular part of history? Well I think it conveys a very important message. Even if you think God is telling you to invade England, please, please stay in doors, save lives.  

Covid-19

You would have to be living under a rock to not have noticed the impacts Covid-19 is already having on daily life. Businesses are closing, vital services are tightening up and we are being advised to avoid social contact as much as possible. Across Scotland, at the time of writing, the total number of positive cases for the illness are 416 and the total fatalities have now unfortunately hit 10 With both figures likely to rise. We thought this would be a good time to look at Covid-19, its impacts and what you can do during the crisis. 

Covid-19 is an illness caused by the Coronavirus that attacks your lungs and airways and is spread by bodily fluids. The symptoms include dry coughing fits, a high fever and shortness of breath. The virus causes these symptoms by turning our own immune systems against us, aggravating our immune cells to the point that they do damage to our bodies. By damaging the lung tissue and making the body vulnerable to other infections, particularly bacterial illness, Covid-19 can put people at risk of pneumonia or even losing their lives. People with underlying vulnerabilities are especially at risk, like those with a compromised immune system or pre-existing lung damage who are less able to fight against the illness.

Luckily there are still things that can be done. At the moment there isn’t much in the way of treatment for the viral infection itself but we can treat the symptoms that make the condition life threatening. If you are fit and healthy and catch the bug the symptoms can range from next to no symptoms to a particularly bad flu. (Although in some of the worst areas hit, like Italy, younger people are starting to become much more ill) The question then turns to what we can do for people who might suffer worse than ourselves if we catch the virus, that’s where social distancing comes in. By cutting out unneeded exposure we limit the chance that someone we care about might catch the illness and go through worse than we might. 

Social distancing is being taken up by most of Ayrshire already, even before the government ordered the closure of pubs and restaurants most people had decided to stay in last weekend, with reports of record low turnout. Schools have also been closed, and public transport has reduced running times. On top of this hospital visiting hours have been reduced and some churches across Ayrshire have even closed services in order to limit people’s chance of exposure. 

All of this is of course having an impact; businesses are struggling and people are struggling just the same. Less work means less pay and even with the government’s recent announcement that they will cover some worker’s pay for unto 80% of lost wages people have already been laid off. Luckily the government has revised their Covid-19 response plan from an internationally condemned approach of herd immunity, which even in the best case scenario would have killed hundreds of thousands, to one of taking an active role in stemming the crisis.

While the government revises its plans what can we do in the meantime? The best advice is to try and self isolate and avoid unneeded social contact. If you can, work from home. Try and only go for your messages once a week, and try not to panic buy. Ask yourself if you really need 18 boxes of baby wipes and 14 boxes of hand sanitizer. On top of this try and help the vulnerable as much as possible, there has been a massive effort to set up mutual aid groups across Scotland, if you can help please click this link to find where your local group is located and help if you can. 

It’s not nice and it can be difficult but try and limit exposure to your vulnerable family, this might mean dropping off shopping to them once a week and it might leave you a bit empty but even if you feel fine that doesn’t mean you can’t spread the illness. With people testing positive showing as asymptomatic this is always something to keep in mind.

Here at ACU we will continue to provide regular content that will hopefully be of interest in these strange times. As new developments and advice becomes available we will do what we can to share useful information on our social media.

Stay safe, be sensible, and we can all get through this.

Below is a couple of links to sites you may want to check to stay updated on the situation.

https://www.north-ayrshire.gov.uk/coronavirus/Coronavirus.aspx

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/

Cat Calling it Out

On International Women’s Day we thought we would take a look at the struggles still faced by working women today. Sexism within the workplace is still something faced by many workers across Scotland, with a wage gap that is getting larger rather than smaller and a government report released in 2018 showing that around one in five workers had experience d sexism in the workplace, with around one in twenty experiencing unwanted physical contact. Sexism and harassment in the workplace is unfortunately still alive and well. 

One group that is taking a stand against this, especially within precarious work, is Better than Zero with their Cat Calling it Out Campaign. Better than Zero, you might remember from an earlier article, is a group that fights for workers right in and around Scotland, especially focusing on workers stuck on zero hour contacts that are being denied their rights. 

We had a chance to ask Morgan (@morganwotwu), someone from our own Ayrshire that’s involved in both Better than Zero and the Cat Calling it Out Campaign a few questions.

Better than Zero has been championing workers rights in Glasgow for a few years now, fighting against unfair work conditions and underpayment of wages, why has this campaign focused specifically on harassment in the workplace, are people in precarious work more vulnerable to sexism within the workplace? 

I do think that sexual harassment is more prevalent in precarious workplaces, there is less of a likelihood that workers will be a member of a trade union, or have the skills and knowledge in workplace organising to organise around this. Especially with zero hours contracts, many women are scared to come forward in the fear that once they complain, they don’t receive any other shifts, essentially leaving them unemployed. For a lot of people, it’s easier just to deal with it.

I think the campaign was needed, especially with the #MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns gaining prominence in Hollywood. People are starting to have more conversations about sexual harassment and assault and I think that a campaign focusing on these issues in precarious workplaces is crucial.   

How did the campaign get started, what were some of the biggest roadblocks early on?

The campaign started through hearing women’s experiences of sexual harassment in precarious work environments and we tried to organise around the issue. One of the biggest roadblocks I found personally was finding women who felt able to come forward about their experiences. Without the stories, the people, and the want for this to change, there isn’t much that we can really do.

What’s been your own involvement in the campaign? 

I was involved in the campaign from the first meeting where we planned the campaign, and was involved in leafleting precarious workers around the issue and trying to spread the work. The first big action we did was in Cineworld in Silverburn, where we were leafleting the public and staff on Cineworld’s failure to combat sexual harassment. It took place on the opening weekend of the new Spiderman movie, and I think that we raised a lot of awareness on the issue. I ended up being pulled into a quiet part of the complex by a male manager who tried to explain to me what he thought of the situation, however a couple of comrades came and found me so that I wasn’t alone.

What have been the biggest successes of the campaign to date? 

I think the campaign did really well in spreading the word about sexual harassment in the workplace, it’s a highly prevalent issue and many women don’t feel like they can come forward. I would say my favourite thing we did for the campaign was speaking at an event out on by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Myself and another Better Than Zero activist spoke on the campaign, our personal experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace and how the issue affects many young workers. It was strange to hear that some workplace reps hadn’t even realised that this was an issue. However, a lot of the women were not surprised to hear this was still happening in today’s world, I think they were just surprised about how forward these men actually are. We got a lot of really positive feedback from the session, and to be honest I think it was really worthwhile.

In 2018 the Scottish Gov released a report saying the wage gap was increasing in recent years, and other studies have shown that women are far more likely to be in zero hours work than men, as well as significantly more likely to experience harassment in the workplace. Do you think the working conditions women face in modern Scotland are getting better or worse? Is the government doing enough?

I think that for as long as we live under this system – where businesses are allowed to essentially do what they want, things won’t get much better. There is only so much that any government – especially a centrist or right wing government – can really do. Neoliberalism promotes business and the individualism in society, the ‘every man for himself’ attitude under capitalism is the biggest problem. What we need is a complete transformation of society, of the workplace and how women are treated under capitalism. For as long as women are seen as the primary caregivers and the ones who hold sole responsibility of raising children and doing unpaid domestic labour – we’ll still see that women are more likely to be paid less for the work that they do. Women’s labour has always been taken for granted under the system, but I also think that women don’t understand just how extraordinary we actually are. 

If a reader is experiencing harassment in the workplace, and doesn’t have a union at work what’s the best way to reach out to Better than Zero?

The best way to contact Better Than Zero would be through our social media accounts. They have links to the email address and phone number for the campaign, but you could also send a quick message to the Facebook page. 


 

University Strikes: Staff and Students against Management

Across the country, both in Scotland and the rest of the UK, universities are being hit by a 14-day strike, with staff at over 74 universities taking part and thousands joining in support, both workers and students. Universities state they will attempt to keep services unaffected by the industrial action but this statement is looking increasingly hollow as classes are cancelled, and with many students actively supporting the strikers, the universities are increasingly looking like the weaker side. 

The University and College Union, the group that organised this wave of industrial action are taking issue with the way in which treatment of staff is continuing to deteriorate. Increasingly, consultation has set into the industry, with an increase in zero-hour contracts, an unresolved gender pay gap and worsening contract terms. The straw that broke the camel’s back for a lot of staff appears to have been changes to pension schemes meaning staff were paying more without the University increasing payments into the pot in kind. 

This will be the third time that uni staff have gone on strike, the last time happening just before Christmas and negotiations are still not landing at a reasonable result. During this time however support from students, according to the BBC is around 47% among students Keeping in mind this might be the third time some of these students have gone through a strike nearly one in two students still supporting the strike is both surprising and good news for staff. The strikes have also got the support from some politicians, notably including Labour leader candidate Rebecca long Bailey and Labour education shadow secretary Angela Rayner. Support from other parties is a bit quieter, not surprising since in previous strikes in Scotland SNP cuts were directly called out as a reason for industrial action, with Staff and union members warning as early as September last year about SNP policy making strike action more, not less likely. 

Support in Glasgow’s institutes remains high, and many students continuing to join staff at picket lines. The reasons behind the Scottish strikes are a little different than the strikes taking place elsewhere in the UK; as mentioned earlier, the cuts to education in Scotland were a driving cause, as was a reduction in real wages, with union representatives saying that some lecturers have had a reduction in pay of 20% over the last decade. 

One interesting form of protest that has emerged during these strikes is that staff are simply following their contracts to the letter without carrying out any of the additional duties they were doing outside of the role they were hired for. The effectiveness of this strategy is shocking, and cuts to the heart of the issue of casualisation in education. The fact that these institutes are crawling to a halt simply because people are only doing what they are paid to do exemplifies how much of a burden is being pushed on to staff without compensation. By forcing employees to burn the wick at both ends without even fairly compensating them for the additional work they are relied upon for, it was only a matter of time before workers took to defending their livelihoods against a deal that is tightening the screws on them. 

Although students continue to show their support, this has not been without consequences. Some universities have dealt students suspensions and expulsions for supporting staff, aiming to drive a wedge between teachers and students. This policy has put people’s educations at risk and at Stirling University, students that supported the strikes earlier last year were threatened with homelessness as they would be banned from university accommodation. The fact that university management is treating the support for staff with such an iron fist, threatening teenagers with homelessness is deeply chilling. The idea that universities are a place that young people can grow, learn but also develop a voice is not lining up with the reality, where you can now be kicked out on the streets for piping up. 

As the strike continues it’s important we all pay attention to what is going on: our centres of education are putting the squeeze on educators and support staff, and at the same time dealing out draconian punishments to dissenters. If you’re able I would ask you to support the strike in any way you can, or else the next generation will be taught about the world from underpaid, overworked educators and reminded constantly to keep their mouths shut.