2020 Indian General Strike

The biggest protest in Human history is currently happening in India, and when I say biggest I mean that this strike makes up one in thirty of the entire world population. 

So big. 

Very big. 

That’s 250 Million people on strike, to put that in perspective that’s as if every single person in the USA were on strike or even more clear, nearly four times as many people as live in the entire UK are currently on strike in India. 

Strikes have become ever more common in India in recent years with Modi’s far right government putting in place ever harsher restrictions on workers right, indeed the only major unions not to have gone on strike in India are those aligned with the ruling BJP. Modi has never been particularly popular with workers across India, and with the Government taking advantage of the Covid Crisis to push even more anti worker legislation into place a confrontation was inevitable. 

What has made these protests in particular grow in size has been the large contingent of farmers unions that have also used the same day to March on the Indian capital city of Delhi to protest the government’s policies that threaten to bring Neoliberalism out from the cities and into into the farming communities that still form a major part of the Indian economy. 

Unlike the worker’s from the city, which predominantly are from the poorer working class the farmers union protests appear to have drawn in agricultural workers from all stratas, and the protesters seem prepared to push for their demands with tenacity, with some farmers union representatives saying the group surrounding Delhi have come with months of food to wait out the government. 

This cross class movement isn’t the only united front forming in India with the myriad of communist parties of the region forming anti BJP coalitions, including the CPM and CPI, and even the Naxalite linked CPI(ML) Liberation. To those not familiar with Indian Leftist politics (we won’t shame you here but you should feel ashamed all the same) this might be confusing and just appear to be a stream of letters I threw at you but this is a bigger deal than you might first think.

India, despite being a region forced to through the horrors of imperialism and now the gruelling gears of global capitalism (or perhaps because of this) is a place where not only are communists more popular than in the west, they’ve also shown themselves as to be able to govern. Kerala, one of the richest states in India has largely been run by a moderate communist party and ran well. A reputation communist don’t enjoy in most of Europe, except perhaps in local elections in France. 

What does this mean in the context of the current strike action? Perhaps not much but the communists parties new found warmth to anti BJP coalitions, the worker’s unions ability to organize and agitate and now with new found support from both rural poor, and even rural landowners (groups typically not found in unity with Marxists) it is possible this movement could form into something that can effectively oppose the ruling far right Indian Government. 

There are hurdles in place and a difficult road in front of the nascent movement and the battle is not even won yet, to speak nothing of the class war but I for one am optimistic. To end our article we would like to leave you with words of Actor Deep Sindu, who has come out in support of this recent wave of protests and industrial action. 

“This is a revolution, sir”

Who was Joe Hill

If you’re a member of the IWW you no doubt already know of Joe Hill thanks to his contributions to the Little Red Song Book (and if you’re not, we would encourage you to join). Most famous for his song “The Preacher and the Slave” Joe was a travelling musician that became a folk hero for the radical work he carried out in the trade union movement; for his beautiful songs that cut right to the heart of the pains of being a worker in early twentieth century America and for his tragic death at the hands of the American state. As it is the hundred and fifth anniversary of his untimely death we at the ACU thought we would explore a little about the man’s life and work, and remember this martyr for the trade union movement. 

Joe Hill, originally named Joel Emmanuel Hägglund, was born on October 7th 1879 in Gävle, Sweden to a conservative Protestant Family. Despite his family being from a more traditionalist worldview, Joe’s early life was one filled with song. Both of his parents were musicians and while a young man Hill wrote songs about his family, and even went to concerts at the workers’ association hall in his hometown. Tragedy struck the happy family in 1887 when Hill’s father died from an injury at his job as a train conductor, and soon Joe and his 5 other siblings were forced to quit school to support themselves. The 9-year-old Hill found himself working in a rope factory rather than attending school but this too wasn’t to last. In 1900 Joe caught TB and at the age of 21 moved to the capital of Sweden, Stockholm both for work and to get treatment for his condition. It was during this treatment that the radiation therapy would leave the young joe with facial disfigurements. Two years after these treatments Joe’s mother would pass away, while herself under medical treatment. With this final tragedy the family sold their home and each went their separate ways; four of Joe’s siblings settled in different parts of Sweden but Joe and his younger brother Paul instead set off for America.

For the next 12 years Joe travelled America, working odd jobs, living in tent cities and writing songs about his experiences. In 1910 he joined the IWW and served as the secretary for the San Pedro local branch. During his time here he wrote many of his most famous songs, including “Pie in The Sky” and the famous “The Preacher and the Slave” that would make its way into the IWW songbook. When legendary folk singer Utah Philips performed Joe Hills songs in concert he would explain why so many were written to the tune of the hymn songs that the salvation army would sing – “Joe liked to steal, the Wobblies generally liked to steal the hymn tunes because they were pretty and everybody knew them and then changed the words so they made more sense”. 

In 1911 he put his revolutionary words into action and, along with an army of homeless radicals, joined up as part of a socialist army that invaded Mexico in hopes of over throwing the dictator of Mexico at the time, Porfirio Diaz, as well as hoping to take over Baja California and turn it into a worker’s free state. The invasion was a disaster and soon the better trained and equipped Mexican Army, still at that time loyal to Diaz, routed the revolutionary army six months after it had crossed the border. In 1912, Hill was apparently active in a Free Speech coalition of Wobblies, back when being pro free speech actually meant standing up to authority, and protested a San Diego police decision to put a stop to street meetings. During this time he was also spotted at sites of industrial action, offering kind words and zealous songs to lift the spirits of workers across America. 

It was in 1913 that Joe’s work supporting strikers would first bring him into conflict with the police. He was arrested for the first time and held for thirty days, charged for what he says in his own words as being “a little too active to suit the chief of the burg”. 

After this Joe was on the police’s watch list and in 1914 when a grocer and his son turned up dead after a botched robbery and Joe turned up the same day at a hospital with gunshot wounds the police pinned the murders on Joe. This was held up on shaky ground, with the only evidence being circumstantial eye witness accounts that did not identify Joe, only a young assailant that escaped with gunshot wounds. Joe, for his part, said he got his gunshot wounds in a feud over the love of a young woman, but refused to give up the name of the young woman or rival on worries that he would only incriminate them. 

The identity of the woman and the rival that caused Hill’s injury was a well kept secret, one that Joe thought he took to the grave with him, though a 2011 biography of Hill presents information about a possible alibi which was never introduced at the trial. Hill and his friend Otto Appelquist were rivals for the attention of 20-year-old Hilda Erickson, a member of the family with whom the two men were lodging. In a recently discovered letter, Erickson confirmed her relationship with the two men and the rivalry between them. The letter indicates that when she first discovered Hill was injured, he explained to her that Appelquist had shot him out of jealousy over their shared love for Hilda. 

During the trail and on the lead up to his execution Joe managed to draw in support from all across America. His supporters included a daughter of a former Mormon church president, radicals that he had worked with during his striking days, and even senior politicians like the Swedish minister to the United States and President Woodrow Wilson. Despite all of these appeals to justice on November 19th 1915 Joe was brutally and unjustly executed by firing squad. His last recorded words were to Bill Haywood, a well known and loved leader of the IWW, and it’s with those words we will leave you now.

“I die like a true rebel. Don’t waste any time mourning, organize!”

Deradicalisation, Islamaphobia and France

“I hope the time is not far off when I shall be able to unite all the wise and educated men of all the countries and establish a uniform regime based on the principles of the Quran which alone are true and which alone can lead men to happiness.”

― Napoléon Bonaparte

France’s attitude to Islam has been complex and mixed for almost as long as it has existed. The French national myth began when Charles the Hammer smashed the Muslims at the battle of Tours in southern France, and marked the end of Islamic expansion in Western Europe. From here the French would go on to form a mighty kingdom that would dominate their corner of Europe, and even provide the lion’s share of Crusaders to retake the holy land. This is not to say that the French relationship with Muslims would remain solely hostile. 

Despite the prestige of being Christianity’s defender in its time of need, France would eventually become the only major Catholic ally of the Ottoman Empire, which had proclaimed itself the Islamic Caliphate; a political arrangement that tarnished the French image as arch defender of the Catholic faith, that at the same time put increasing pressure on the nation’s Austrian rivals. France eventually even charmed and pressured the Sultan in Istanbul to elect France as the protector of all Christians within the Ottoman borders. 

France would also play an indirect role in the decline of the Islamic world. Before the French Revolution, if you were Christian, Hindu, Jewish, or Muslim, the only place you could live in relative peace with people of other faiths was under Islamic rule. The Islamic world was seen as a bastion of tolerance, but that all ended when France was consumed in revolutionary fervour, and where once there had been an absolute monarchy that ruled through divine right, there was now a republic, and that republic offered something better than the tolerance you could find in the Islamic world, it offered equality. Suddenly being safe as a second class citizen wasn’t the best offer in town, you could be a French Protestant or Jewish French and have the same rights as your Catholic co-patriots. It’s not a coincidence that once France embraced egalitarianism that the Islamic courts and palaces started to empty of their intelligentsia. Why be a well treated servant of the Sultan, when you could be free and equal in France?

To say the French relationship with Islam had been complex is an understatement but recent developments don’t show any sign of this relationship become any more simple, or even any less conflicting. 

Macron, the president of the Jupiterian French Republic recently made statements describing Islam as a religion needing reform while promising to further strengthen the separation of church and state in the country, and these comments paint the backdrop for the tragic beheading of a teacher earlier this month and another mass stabbing in Nice this week. The teacher of a freedom of expression class was targeted by Islamists for showing depictions of the Prophet Mohammed during lessons. These tragedies have again ignited the narrative that the West’s love of free speech exists in opposition to the values of Muslims and Islam as a whole. 

Macron specifically called out the rise of separatism within French Muslim communities in his speech where he referred to the Islamic faith as “in crisis”. This came about as he introduced new legislation to reinforce the separation of church and state, something historically treated very seriously in France, to the point where supermarkets have been closed in the past for refusing to stock pork or wine. This same speech was criticised by many, including Portuguese political scientist Bruno Maçães for breaking from the norm in the West when discussing Islam by not differentiating between Islam- the faith practiced by nearly a third of the world’s population- and Islamists, a minority that carry out violent actions. While others have drawn attention to the fact that during a time of increasing strife in France- with the ongoing Covid Pandemic and Yellow Vest movement- it was strange that the President choose now to call out his Muslim citizenry in such an inflammatory fashion. This may hint at a worrying trend in France where Macron, who in 2017 easily beat out the far right candidate Le Pen, might not stand as firm come next time, considering the course his presidency has taken, and might instead be attempting to beat the Rassemblement National at their own game. 

While this might prove politically expedient for Macron, this manoeuvring has allowed Turkish President Erdoğan to yet again position himself as both President of the secular Turkish Republic and Ghazi defender of the Islamic faith. While not quite unravelling the Black Standard and going to war (not just yet anyway) This is a position the Turkish President has found himself quite happy to fill whenever Muslims communities suffer, whether in China, Myanmar, Palestine or New Zealand, Recep is happy to talk about human right violations. If I was cynical, I would say that if Recep was genuinely worried about people suffering human right infringement or political attack, and his compassion came from a honest place, he wouldn’t have to look outside Turkey’s borders to find them. Instead, these incidents of human suffering are used by the Turkish President to leverage his position on the world stage, and as a way of legitimising himself to the religious right that form a key part of his voting bloc at home. 

Now France has appeared in Erdoğan’s firing line. What initially started as a war of words, with the Turkish President saying that his French counter part needed a mental check, this has now resulted in diplomatic envoys being recalled, Recep calling on a boycott of French products and Macron, in turn, calling on his allies in the EU to essentially back him up. Both Presidents seem happy to stroke their egos in public and stoke tensions if it means political gains at home but this vain posturing does take place on a dangerous foundation, namely a reckless placing of “Western Civilisation” against “The Islamic World”.

Stepping into this tense arena of religious struggle and clashing civilisations was Mahathir Mohamad, former PM of Malaysia, who added to the conversation by launching into a strange tirade, saying if Muslims believed in the concept of an eye for an eye Muslims would have the right to kill millions of French, before making another strange rant about western decadence being caused by bikinis. Twitter had the good sense to delete the former PMs strange posts but I think it stands as a good example of how world leaders are using these rising tensions as an opportunity to revel in their pseudo-intellectual idiocy and as a reminder that even if someone was formerly a head of state, that doesn’t mean their opinions aren’t to be dismissed. 

Returning to France, and Macron’s comments we have to examine the recent history of Muslims in France, and the fact that the largest minority that makes up its Muslim population is Algerian. Algeria has had a special place in the French colonial empire in that it was the only part of the empire outside of Europe that wasn’t governed as a colony, but instead as an integral part of France. This didn’t mean that Algerians were treated any better than other parts of the empire, instead that Paris took a far more direct role in exploiting, and controlling the region. This didn’t foster a love of France in the colonised peoples, and even furthered an ideological divide. An interesting example of this is when Stalin died in 1953, the French colonists celebrated, partying and drinking in the streets, the Algerians instead took to mourning.

Naturally a people so abused and oppressed by their colonisers would struggle for national independence, both in Algeria itself and France. In one particularly tragic clash in 1961 French police murdered 400 peaceful protesters in Paris, and threw the bodies into the Seine river. 

As with any war, symbols were as important as bullets and in a strange twist of fate football took a centre stage in this national struggle in 1958. Four French Algerians were shortlisted to play in the French national team in the World Cup in Sweden. Although flattered, these players had other ideas; instead of representing France, they decided to flee illegally and represent the nation of Algeria. In a plot straight out of a Hollywood film, these players left the country via Switzerland and assembled at the headquarters of the FLN, an organisation and army fighting for independence. This wasn’t a simple defection or emigration, these men were giving up a lot, many had got very rich from playing football in France and some were still to complete their mandatory military service, on top of charges of desertion, accusations of radicalism also followed. 

This is but one example of the multifaceted link between Islam and the French empire, as well as its link to liberatory nationalism that Paris saw as a threat; across the empire, other Muslim majority nations felt the boot of French imperialism on their necks. From Mali, to the tragic assassination of Thomas Sankara in Burkina Faso, to policies of neo-colonialism in Western Africa, forcing states to keep their national reserves in Paris, and more recently in Lebanon where France is using the tragedy of the Beirut explosion and its economic devastation to re-exert French influence in the region. 

These nations are diverse, and their experiences under French rule and with Islam are unique to each people; the uniting experience is not that France likes to rule over Muslims, instead that it will attempt to maintain its power on the world stage at any cost, and part of that arsenal is the use of Radical Islam as an enemy that can be linked to anticolonial movements. Indeed, even calling Lebanon or Burkina Faso Muslim majority nations erases a large, non Muslim part of the national identity of these states. France doesn’t want to rule over Muslims, it wants to rule over people.

At home however, this relationship to Islam is a lot more direct and a lot more blunt. France has introduced a deradicalisation program that, by its own admission, targets those in prison for crimes that are not linked to radicalism, and instead selects people that the state views as vulnerable to radicalism. These people are taken away from the general population and instead put into a deradicalisation program; similar attempts in the past ended in failure and instead were accused of only working to make contractors rich off of French taxes. 

Deradicalisation is not a French “War on Islam”. Instead, it’s a tool the French capitalist and political classes use to impose their economic weight abroad and control populations at home. Its not a coincidence that its anti-Islamist policies gives France an excuse to deploy its soldiers all over the world, from the Middle East to Africa, and Islamophobia at home gives the French state an excuse to monitor and oppress a population that it ultimately views as a possible threat. 

While it is true there are radicals in the Muslim community that use violence to achieve their evil political goals, this fringe minority does not give the French state apparatus an excuse to paint a population of nearly 2 billion with the same brush, and attempts to do so should rightly be opposed. Even a broken clock is right twice a day- this doesn’t mean Macron has Muslim’s best interests at heart, and it does not mean we can pretend any reformist movement in Islam will come from people seeking to benefit France, and solely France. 

“Napoleon would lie in bed reading and dictating to Bourrienne. His principal reading was from the Quran. Like Alexander the Great before him, he intended to absorb the religion of the people over whom he would rule. He insisted that, if necessary, he himself was willing to become a Muslim—an intention that, at least initially, he would show every sign of wishing to fulfil. However, it should also be noted that in Napoleon’s shipboard library the Quran was shelved under “Politics.” At the same time, he also busied himself with dictating his “proclamation” to the Egyptian people.”

― Paul Strathern

Dungavel: Scotland’s Shame

In recent days, the question over how to handle refugees and asylum seekers has reached a boiling point. With the far right in ascendance all over the world- from Hungary and Poland, to the USA and UK- and refugees from war, famine and climate change likely to increase, it seems that the victims of circumstance are going to be left in an increasingly hostile world with nowhere to go.

In the US, Trump’s nativist rhetoric might be shocking to some, but far more damaging to immigrant communities have been institutions like ICE that have existed for longer than Trump’s administration has allowed him to put his rhetoric into practice; founded under Bush Jr, later expanded and used by Obama to enforce mass deportations of groups like the Haitian community, under Trump ICE has been accused of enacting sterilisation of immigrant women in concentration camps. A disgusting practice that is currently being investigated by the US government, but hardly surprising considering Trump’s own comments on refugees and asylum seekers, all in the backdrop of the USA’s long history of bigotry.

This isn’t to say that the American public are, to a number, happy with the policy of their government; cries of “Abolish ICE” have been heard at protests across America, and an attack on an ICE facility was carried out in 2019.

In the UK the debate over what to do with asylum seekers is being answered by the Tory party, an organisation with it own long history of racism that had attempted to rebrand as a modern party under David Cameron, but now led by Boris Johnston, a man prone to bigoted statements that won his election with a manifesto that specifically targeted British Roma by promising to seize their property. Perhaps a party winning an election on a promise to target an ethnic group that was a prime target during the holocaust should have raised more of an alarm among the public, but now this party is the one in charge of determining the UKs policy concerning asylum seekers.

The answers these amoral ghouls are coming up with are as suitably evil as you would imagine: Priti Patel considering shipping asylum seekers to Ascension– an island in the South Atlantic with a population of just over 800, that’s closer to Brazil and Nigeria than it is to the home isle- was a particularly egregious highlight. Being around 6400 kilometres from the UK, the primary reason this was argued against wasn’t on the moral grounds of turning an island in the middle of nowhere into a concentration camp, but instead the costs involved in the morally vacant venture.

The idea of having offshore detention centres to process migrants is heavily inspired by the Australian system of processing migrants, and the idea itself appears to be gaining traction in the UK, despite the failure of the Ascension plan. The idea itself is not without controversy with any such plan meaning the UK would need to withdraw from both the UN Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights to avoid violating the law. The fact that a policy that is widely detracted as based on racism and denying basic human rights violations is being calmly debated simply because another English speaking nation has already put it into practice demonstrates just how far into xenophobia the UK has fallen.

What then about Scotland? We have always portrayed ourselves as the more humanitarian part of the union but how much does that really hold up to inspection? These tensions between those who want to welcome immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees and those who would instead embrace xenophobia definitely exist in our own nation. One saving caveat, at least, is that our government is not seeking to ignite these tensions for political gain. For example, after the tragic attack in June this year by asylum seeker Badreddin Abadlla Adam the Scottish government’s response was to challenge the Home Office for the way it had been treating asylum seekers.

Nicola Sturgeon even chimed into the debate down south around the possibility of offshore detention centres by saying that “They [Westminster] can rest assured that any proposal to treat human beings like cattle in a holding pen will be met with the strongest possible opposition from me”. Is this true however? 

In South Lanarkshire, near Strathaven exists Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre. This facility is operating on Scottish soil, for profit by a private company in the name of the Home Office, housing those who have had their asylum pleas rejected, while they wait for deportation. Currently the capacity of the site has been reduced from 249 to 125 at the start of the year, but this might already be too little too late. A recent outbreak of Covid-19 has resulted in fresh calls to close the facility by refugee rights groups, who say the facility has a history of poor treatment for the people it houses, evidenced recently by the death of a man in the facility in 2017. With detention already putting a strain on a person’s physical and mental health one can only imagine the stress a covid outbreak could cause in a facility like this. I would also like to remind readers that these people haven’t broken any laws, they have simply been denied asylum by the Home Office, and that nearly two fifths of the people housed in this facility are reported as being vulnerable. At the time of writing the Home Office have not released the numbers of those infected by and who might have died from Covid-19 at this facility, and even refuses to give exact numbers on the total number of people held there currently.

If Scotland wants to maintain its reputation and self image as a land of tolerance and understanding we have to confront the reality of Dungavel, because a tolerant society can not tolerate a facility like this on its own soil.

Solidarity with Bangladeshi Workers

The Dragon Sweater Group is a cornerstone of Bangladesh’s garment industry, producing about $4.5 billion in revenue per year from exports. The organization is headed by Mostafa Golam Quddus, a former president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association and an important figure in establishing the country’s industrialised clothing industry. You might not know a lot about this company but if you’ve ever bought clothes from Zara, Primark, H&M or even Asda you might have a jumper made in one of the companies factores in your house right now. Lately, the Dragon Sweater Group has come under fire for their treatment of Bangladeshi garment workers during the COVID-19 crisis.

In March, the factory closed down as part of precautions over the pandemic, and it was at this point that a large part of the company’s employees were dismissed; the company claims only 140 workers did not return to work and that everyone was given their proper wages while the factory was closed over. However, the Daily Star- an English-Bangladeshi newspaper claims the number is between 500 and 600, with the Garment Workers Trade Union Centre and the Industrial Workers of the World claiming the number of employees that were dismissed and had their wages withheld being ten times that figure, at 6000

This unfair, and technically illegal dismissal of such a large portion of their workforce has naturally caused some backlash towards the company; but with management unwilling to even admit to an agreed upon figure of dismissed workers- never mind admitting wrong-doing- negotiations drew to a halt over reinstatement of the workers and lost wages. In response, the union organised protests, including occupying the factory owners’ home and a hunger strike at the Prime Minister’s office. Jolly Talukder, general secretary of Garment Workers Trade Union Centre makes the group’s demands very simple, saying that “Every worker deserves legal payment by the employer”.

The union has also garnered support internationally with groups like the IWW and the International Confederation of Labour organising pickets and poster campaigns targeting businesses still trading with the factory worldwide, in Ireland, Germany, Spain, Brazil, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and even our own Ayrshire. 

You might ask yourself what benefit these demonstrations can do and what material help this is actually giving the workers in Bangladesh, but the campaign is looking to be on a roll, with the Walmart Group(owners of ASDA) stating they will no longer work with the factory until the workers demands are met. In the UK, only Lidl are yet to issue a response. With mounting pressure on the Dragon Sweater Group, both in Bangladesh and internationally, the workers are hoping to bring management to the negotiating table, reinstating their jobs and wages and returning to normal life.

If you want to get involved you can get more information about the campaign here and if you want to take part in action in support of workers locally and worldwide, you can join the IWW here.

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.

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.

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.