International Day of Solidarity With the People of Palestine

Today marks the globally recognised day of solidarity with the people of Palestine. This is a UN organised observance that was officially established in 1977 to start in 1978. The following year they requested the issue of commemorative postage stamps. Outside of the performative gestures of solidarity there are a number of grassroots organisations that use the day to bring attention to the plight of the Palestinian people and the Trade Union Council here in the UK is an outspoken supporter of the people of Palestine. Instead of a lengthy article detailing the long and harrowing history of the ongoing apartheid we would instead like to show appreciation for the organisations that have been tirelessly advocating for the people of Palestine and hopefully to point you, dear reader, to a place that you might think you could get involved in to make a difference.

Palestine Solidarity Campaign

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign is currently the biggest organisation in the UK dedicated to advocating for the human rights of the Palestinian people. Their goals are stated on their website as follows –

  • In support of the rights of the Palestinian people and their struggle to achieve these rights.
  • Against the oppression and dispossession suffered by the Palestinian people.
  • To promote Palestinian civil society in the interests of democratic rights and social justice.
  • To oppose Israel’s occupation and its aggression against neighbouring states.
  • For the right of self-determination for the Palestinian people.
  • For the right of return of the Palestinian people for the immediate withdrawal of the Israeli state from the occupied Palestinian territory.
  • In opposition to racism, including anti-Jewish prejudice and Islamophobia, and the apartheid and Zionist nature of the Israeli state.

Today they held an online Rally jointly with Jewish Voice for Peace and the BDS National Committee.

You can become a member of PSC and get more involved in their campaigns. They also rely heavily on donations as they don’t accept money from governments, political parties or big businesses. If you’re interested in getting involved in some capacity check them out here.

Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign

The Scottish political campaign for solidarity was established in September of 2000 in response to the second Palestinian uprising (intifada) against Israeli settler colonialism. They do similar campaigning and have been continually active in opposing the sale of Israeli goods in Scotland. To get more involved with this group check them out here.

Jewish Voices for Peace

Something that can quite easily be overlooked in the discussions about Palestine are the many Jewish voices that speak out in support of their right to self-determination and against Zionism. The US based Jewish Voices for Peace is one of the biggest organisational homes for Jewish activists. Starting in the mid 90’s they are ‘inspired by Jewish tradition to work for a just and lasting peace according to principles of human rights, equality, and international law for all the people of Israel and Palestine.’ Check them out here.

Celtic Supporters

Although never far from controversy, the ‘Green Brigade’ ultras group of supporters of Celtic FC have consistently protested in support of the people of Palestine and against the rise of Fascism. Despite warning from Police Scotland that there would be consequences, supporters of the club arranged for hundreds of Palestinian flags to be flown during a game against the Israeli team, Hapoel Be-er Sheva in 2016. When interviewed about the protest one of the supporters involved is quoted as saying –

‘We took a stand last night because we had to. This was an Israeli team, one whose town is built on occupied Palestinian land.

They were allowed to travel here freely for the game. Israeli football clubs can go anywhere they want, from Israel to any country in the world. That freedom of movement is not shared with Palestinian teams and players, who have restrictions imposed on them.’

With Israel’s continued efforts to undermine international law and encroach further on the lives of the Palestinian people it has never been more important to show real solidarity and try and affect change. If you can spare the time and/ or money, please do so. The word ‘solidarity’ is at risk of becoming the left-wing version of ‘thoughts and prayers’. It should be a call to action; a statement of intent.

Photo by Ahmed Abu Hameeda on Unsplash

Scotland Qualify for Euro 2020

I’m not going to lie, 2020 has been a shite year. I’m not sure anyone would argue against that in good faith but there has been one bright light at the end of this incredibly dark tunnel, and it has lit up my year. After 22 years Scotland has qualified for its first major competition since 1998, where we qualified for the world cup, only to be put out by Morocco in a brutal game that left us with a score of 0-3, and left Scotland’s dreams in tatters. 

To put that in perspective, the last time the Scotland squad qualified for something I had just started primary one and hadn’t yet been aged by the emotional toll of supporting the national team. 

The Euro qualifying game itself was a nail biter, as you would only expect from a Scotland game. Scotland put in a good show for themselves in the first half, even if there was a scare from Serbia, and Scotland managed to end the first half looking like the dominant team. The second half started even better with Ryan Christie scoring a goal in the 52nd minute. Now, as the clock got closer and closer to the 90th minute I was more certain we were through only for Serbia’s Luka Jović to equalise in the 90th minute. I had already turned away, telling my housemate how this was overturning years of agony, the biggest achievement in our adult lives from the national team when Serbia scored. I’m not going to lie, there was a pit in my stomach when Serbia scored in the middle of my victory speech where I thought “oh god, I jinxed it”. 

Watching the extra time with my head in my hands I thought, this is down to me, I should have kept my mouth shut. Lucky for my guilty conscience Serbia didn’t score in the extra time, unfortunately neither did Scotland. This meant a penalty shoot out and this is the point where I had completely lost hope, I thought to myself “typical, Scotland’s gonna lose on penalties and it’s gonna be another 22 years before we have another shot at something like this”. I was, however, proven wrong when David Marshall saved the final Serbian shot, leaving Scotland ahead on penalties at 5-4, winning us the game. Now David Marshall showed far more sense than me and even after he had saved the final penalty shot he waited until the refs had called the game before celebrating. An important rule of Scottish football I had forgotten is never celebrate until there is literally nothing that can come up. 

Now, not to show my bias or anything, but I can’t help but feel that the Scotland team’s recent success has been down to a good manager, Steve Clarke. The man was just fresh from turning Kilmarnock FC into a competitive force, and even briefly putting them at top of the league. Steve Clarke set to his next task, putting the national team in order. I remember being in Turkey when Scotland played Cyprus, and only being able to convince a café owner to put the game on on the promise that he’d get to watch Cyprus lose. I was fairly sure of this, both from my faith in Clarke, and because I knew Scotland had literally never lost to Cyprus. It was still amazing getting to see Clarke win his first game as manager. The next few games weren’t as great a success, with Scotland losing to teams like Belgium, far above their weight class, but with Clarke in charge Scottish football finally has a 9 in a row I can celebrate, having won the last 9 national games. 

I’m not going to lie, now that we’ve qualified this doesn’t mean we have easy days ahead; the group we’re in is very rough. We’ll be playing the Czech Republic, England and finishing with world cup runners up Croatia. To add insult to injury if lockdown isn’t lifted before June 2021 we might not even get the chance to completely ruin Wembley after our match with England, but in the meantime, I’m over the moon. We’re in the Euros and I don’t have to worry about jinxing a match again until at least June. 

As a final aside, and before any of our English readers get annoyed at Scotland over celebrating qualifying, just remember you gave your manager a knighthood for finishing fourth. 

Political Arrests in Turkey

Earlier this week the Speaker of the House in America, Nancy Pelosi, made comments regarding Trump’s refusal to guarantee a peaceful transition of power, reminding the President that he was not in Turkey. This provoked a response from Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish foreign minister who was deeply offended that the legitimacy of Turkish Democracy was being brought into question; even tagging President Trump in a response that called Speaker Pelosi “worrisome for American democracy” and saying that she showed “blatant ignorance”. The same day that Cavusoglu was using twitter to defend Turkish democratic prestige, the state carried out arrests on 82 people linked to anti-government protests, including an opposition mayor.

The majority of those arrests are officials of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). The Turkish state issued the arrests, saying these people encouraged others to take part in the protests across Turkey in 2014 that left 37 dead. The HDP blamed Turkish police for the violence. A party that puts defending the rights of the Kurdish population at the centre of its political agenda, the HDP took part in mass protests after the town of Kobane– a Kurdish majority town in Syria- came under siege by ISIS; the protestors demanded that Turkey provide military assistance to fight off the Jihadi forces, in order to prevent a massacre similar to when ISIS had taken over other Syrian and Kurdish towns.

The plight the HDP finds itself in is not anything new; in 2019 the HDP had 65 mayors elected, and now 47 of these mayors have been undemocratically replaced with state appointed officials. Some are even facing imprisonment after being branded terrorists by the Turkish Government. 

Terrorism charges are often levelled against the HDP as it is a Democratic Socialist party going out of its way to defend the Kurdish population in Turkey, a political minority often persecuted and hated by both the Turkish Government and the majority of the Turkish nation. This is due to perceived links to the PKK, a pro Kurdish Communist group branded terrorists by Turkey, the EU and the USA. The HDP denies any links to terrorism and denies any support for violent action. This Government crackdown is nothing new for the HDP. Ayhan Bilgen, a well known mayor from eastern Turkey arrested in this latest round previously having said in an interview “We joke with another, wondering whose turn is next”.

The shape of Turkish democracy, however, means that it’s not only the Kurdish population and political leaders that face charges of terrorism. In June this year 149 warrants were issued for Turks involved in the state’s armed forces for links to FETO, an alleged organisation that the state insists carried out the 2016 attempted Coup. This was followed by another 41 arrests from 28 warrants towards the end of July. Fetullah Terrorist Organization (or FETO) is an organisation the Turkish Government says is headed by its US-based leader Fetullah Gulen, a man once tightly linked to the rise of the ruling AKP and Erdoğan’s own career but now forced into exile due to a political falling out.

The AKP’s rampant use of arrests to silence democratic opposition has increased greatly over the summer. The AKP lost the mayorship of Istanbul- Turkey’s largest city, and the seat that Erdoğan started his political career in by winning it for the religious right- just over a year ago to the CHP candidate Ekrem İmamoğlu, despite an attempt by the AKP to prevent this loss by demanding a new round of voting through the high court. It’s not hard to see why the ruling AKP is lashing out at any dissent; with their star no longer on the rise they’re scrambling to make sure they can keep what they’ve spent the last decade building up. It might keep them in power a little longer but this willingness to bring the weaponry of the state against political enemies does lay bare the hypocrisy of Cavusoglu’s passionate defence of Turkish Democracy.

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.

The Russian Report, State Failure and Corruption

On the 21st of July, the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) finally published its long-awaited report on Russian interference in the UK’s democratic process. Allegedly the report has been ready since before the election in 2019 but the Johnson led government has been accused of deliberately delaying its release until after they were elected. The chair of the ISC himself, Dominic Grieve, said that the reasons given for the report’s delay were “bogus”. The version of the report that is available to the public has been heavily redacted as it contains a lot of information related to the Intelligence Services, but it still shines an interesting light on the way the government has failed to mitigate the threat of Russian cyber attacks and political interference. It also points out a serious issue of Russian Oligarchs with ties to the Russian Government using London as a haven while also helping to fill the Conservative Party’s coffers.

Since the 9/11 terror attacks, the amount of resources allocated to protection from Hostile State Activity has rapidly fallen; twenty years ago, MI5 devoted around 20% of its resources to this cause. As the threat of terrorism grew, Hostile State Activity resources continued to dwindle; by 2008/9 around 97% of all of MI5’s resources were tied up in counter terrorism activities. It was not until 2013/14, in response to an increase in Russian cyber activity, that resources increased back to 14.5%. The report states –

‘Since 2014, Russia has carried out malicious cyber activity in order to assert itself aggressively in a number of spheres, including attempting to influence the democratic elections of other countries.’

In spite of an increase of resources in the intelligence community to try and deal with this problem it is obvious that the response has been completely disorganised with many different agencies expected to deal with the issue with no clear chain of responsibility in place. After describing all the different agencies involved, the report goes on to state –

‘Overall, the issue of defending the UK’s democratic processes and discourse has appeared to be something of a “hot potato”, with no one organisation recognising itself as having an overall lead.’

This shows a worrying lack of cohesion and a clear weakness in the supposed stated goal of the UK’s intelligence agencies in “the defence of the realm”. It is clear that since the inception of these agencies the definition of what the ‘realm’ is has changed and more needs to be done to update what it means to defend it.

In the years since the collapse of the Soviet Union there seemed to be a genuine hope that Russia could be seen as a potential partner in the upper echelons of UK businesses and political parties. As a result, the UK has been incredibly open in accepting Russian money and investment which has resulted in London becoming something of a recycler of illicit finances and has been referred to as “Londongrad” or the “London Laundromat”. On this matter the report states –

‘Several members of the Russian elite who are closely linked to Putin are identified as being involved with charitable and/or political organisations in the UK, having donated to political parties, with a public profile which positions them to assist Russian influence operations.’

Probably of little surprise to most it also describes a possible issue of corruption within the House of Lords –

‘It is notable that a number of Members of the House of Lords have business interests linked to Russia, or work directly for major Russian companies linked to the Russian state – these relationships should be carefully scrutinised, given the potential for the Russian state to exploit them.’

So, in which direction is all of this Russian money and influence going then?

Since 2014 the Conservative party has received millions of pounds in donations from Russian oligarchs, nouveau riche that emerged like vultures picking apart the corpse of the USSR for profit.

The largest donor among them has been Lubov Chernukin, the wife of a former Russian deputy finance minister. In the last year she has donated more than £450,000 to the Tories (more than £1.2 million since 2014) and has repeatedly purchased one on one time with high ranking Tory members. In February while attending the Black and White ball- an event held for major Tory donors in Battersea Park- she paid £135,000 at an auction to have dinner with Theresa May. Chernukin also gave almost £15,000 to the constituency office of the Conservative Party Chairman Brandon Lewis MP who is now the Minister of State for Security. In 2014 she also paid £160,000 to play tennis with Boris Johnson and David Cameron and £30,000 so that she could have dinner with Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson. We don’t deal in conspiracy theories at ACU but various Tory MP’s prostituting themselves to Russian elites seems very strange indeed.

Another prominent Russian donor is former arms tycoon Alexander Temerko. Over the past 7 years Temerko has gifted over £1.2 million pounds and speaks kindly of his “friend” Boris Johnson. He revealed how close he is with the now Prime Minister when talking with Reuters, claiming that when Johnson was the Foreign Secretary the pair would often “plot” late in to the evening over a bottle of wine on the balcony of Johnson’s office at parliament. The two men reportedly call each other “Sasha”, the Russian nickname for Alexander, this being Johnson’s real first name, which only close friends call him. Alexander Temerko has links to the highest levels inside the Russian government.

There seems to be many on the left that think that the Russian state deserves support as a great anti-western power in the world. This is a dangerous position to take as the current Russian state power is increasingly shown to be incredibly corrupt, confrontational and has many ties to the criminal underworld. It’s not one or the other, it is possible to acknowledge that both the western governments and that of Russia are at least as corrupt as each other. The findings in this ISC report appear very damaging, despite Johnson trying to downplay the revelations in Parliament. In yet another facet of governing, the Tory party has completely dropped the ball and now appears, pretty convincingly, to be heavily influenced by the elites of Russia.

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.

Manufacturing Indifference: Fast Fashion and Consumerism

This past week, fashion industry giant Boohoo made headlines as news of poor working conditions and underpayment came to light from its supply chains in Leicester’s garment district; workers are being paid as little as £3 per hour, well below the national minimum wage, as well as being required to work in unsafe conditions throughout the pandemic, with no social distancing or safety measures put in place. With Leicester being one of the first cities forced to implement a localised lockdown in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, it is believed that these conditions in garment factories contributed to the rapid spread of the virus among the community. Developments in this wave of fashion industry controversy are ongoing- two days ago The Times announced the findings of an investigation which similarly implicates the Quiz brand in sourcing products from garment factories with a flagrant disregard for workers’ rights. As “shocked and appalled” as Boohoo- and us along with them- may claim to be at finding what amounts to slavery on our own doorstep, this is nothing new. While some may be genuinely surprised workers are treated this way in our own country, we, like the bosses at Boohoo, know the suffering that goes into producing the shirts on our backs and the shoes on our feet; “Made in Bangladesh” labels on £4 Primark dresses don’t exactly conjure images of workplace utopia’s. 

While we are hazily aware of oppression in the Global South, this level of awareness very seldom translates into the kind of moral outrage garnered by analogous oppressions in our immediate environment. Geographical as well as cultural distance help us to otherise workers suffering in far off places. Yet this is not a problem solely for foreign governments and traders to deal with. As this latest affair shows, the oppressive and callous conditions of capitalist production persist everywhere; even in ostensibly ‘developed’ countries like our own, huge retailers and restaurant chains will routinely underpay and overwork staff. Last year, the Low Pay Commission found a record number of workers in the UK, most of them women, were being paid less than the national minimum wage. If companies with huge public profiles like Wagamama and Marriott can get away with underpaying employees and violating their rights, is it any wonder that for migrant workers locked away in sweatshops the situation is significantly worse?

‘Fast fashion’ has developed exponentially in the last decade, as high street shopping has been overtaken by the online sphere and the demand for personalised convenience. As highlighted by clothing magnate Eileen Fisher (while accepting an industry award for environmentalism), “The clothing industry is the second largest polluter in the world… second only to oil… it’s a really nasty business… it’s a mess.” At every level, from the harvesting of raw materials, to production, to transit, to distribution, to consumption and finally to disposal, the environmental impact of fast fashion is gargantuan. Behind endless sales and new seasons in perpetuity, inland seas are drained, landfills pile high with poor quality, instantly dated clothes and rivers are poisoned with dye. Cultural awareness of the environmental impact of our consumption habits has arguably never been higher, as we hurtle on towards climate catastrophe. In recent years, the high-profile protestations of Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg have dominated much of this conversation, and around the world, leaders are being put under increased pressure to develop a ‘Green New Deal’. As this snappy business-backed euphemism suggests, the more radical (often non-white) voices of the environmental movement are subsumed by a mainstream which proposes investment in emergent technologies, streamlining production and developing a carbon-neutral ‘eco-capitalism’. Quick to dismiss the utopian visions of far- out socialists or even social democrats, liberal policymakers the world over have seemingly found their own fairy tale to inhabit.

Understanding our consumption habits in terms of environmental impact is hugely important if we are to have any chance of preventing- or, at this stage, mitigating- climate change, and no doubt there are emergent or developing technologies which will help us accomplish a reduction in the footprint of industries like fashion. Yet conversations around the proposed ‘Green New Deal’ typically fails to provide any consideration for the workers, whose already precarious existence will face the most upheaval at the hands of automation or efficiency technologies. Some continue to argue that innovations on the production line benefit workers by increasing output while minimizing their required labour input; as workers in the fashion industry have known since the invention of the sewing machine, any perceived reduction in exertion leads inevitably to an increase in hours and a deflation of wages. Whatever the case may be, these people won’t simply cease to exist once we fully automate production lines and will need to be accounted for.

The coronavirus lockdown has created the space and conditions in which this conversation could reasonably be expected to come to a head; earlier in the pandemic, online retailers reported huge surges in profits as more and more people turned to online outlets for their grocery, entertainment and consumption needs. This uptick in revenue and usage has led to increased scrutiny. Or, at least, more conscious scrutiny. After all, environmental groups have been warning of the devastating impact of over-consumption for decades, and similar reports to those shaming Boohoo and Quiz have come and gone in years past. While it might typically be easy for us to think of these as issues solely for private business and government, the true impact and danger of our consumption demands- not only for the environment but for workers- has been thrown into sharp relief by the threat the coronavirus poses. 

Yet it’s almost easier to imagine the end of the world as a result of a deadly pandemic than the end of rampant consumerism, a mould we have been collectively shaped and moulded into since at least the 1920s. Industrial capital has manufactured our indifference to the suffering of workers for decades. When one story breaks through, as has happened with Boohoo and the Leicester factories, they follow a standardised playbook: plead ignorance, pledge funding to weed out the bad actors and wait for everything to blow over. We can’t rely on the self-regulation of huge companies to improve working conditions or avert climate disaster. While they may offer empty gestures and platitudes (the £10mil pledged by Boohoo to address this controversy is less than 7% of the £150 millon bonus scheme already planned for bosses), these organisations will forever be the propagators of unchecked and exponential consumption. It will take unlearning and challenging our roles as consumers to exert the kind of pressure needed to win big for the environment and workers.

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. 

Palliative Protests: How Liberals Undermine Social Movements

The murder of George Floyd has galvanised a desire for change extending far beyond the borders of the United States. The most recent in a long line of racially motivated police killings, George’s death and the resultant police response to protests, have revealed the callousness with which a great many law enforcement officials wield their power. Amidst a backdrop of coronavirus, social disenfranchisement, and police brutality, peaceful protests have erupted into riots and looting across America, invariably with police inciting or exacerbating through excessive force. As video after video surfaces online of police engaging in violent suppression of largely peaceful protesters, many are recognising the need for a serious and widespread interrogation of our relationship to the mechanisms of power and social control.

With that said, hand wringing over the validity of rioting and looting as a form of political protest threaten to overtake the issues; predictably, conservatives- who portray themselves as gun-toting freedom fighters ready to go toe-to-toe against government tyranny- are positively salivating at the prospect of government violence being meted out against their enemies- these violent thugs with no respect for property rights or law enforcement. This gleeful inconsistency on their part is par for the course; what is more insidious, however, is the tendency of supposedly well-meaning liberals to hijack social movements and placate them while performing their support. The anger and desire for change which liberal protestors feel is often proportionally less than that of others involved in rioting and looting, no matter their radical rhetoric (adopted as it comes in and out of vogue).

This article will consider the role liberals play in de-fanging and disowning protest movements, often demeaning or erasing the very people they purport to care about, all whilst demanding little in the way of change.

One of the recurring criticisms levelled at protests by conservatives and liberals alike is that rioting- and especially looting, the wanton infringement of property rights- in some sense diminishes the seriousness of the demonstration, detracts from “the message” and robs them of their political legitimacy. This claim is nothing new; as far back as the 1960s conservatives and liberal elites have attempted to police the boundaries of acceptable protest by casting aspersions on the working classes engaged in acts of social disorder, like property damage and looting. For conservatives, this means characterising riotous protesters as violent degenerate thugs, often with racialised overtones. Liberals- who typically place themselves ostensibly on the side of change and progress- weaponize Martin Luther King Jr in decrying rioting and looting; here, they say, is evidence of the evergreen effectiveness of peaceful protest. Offering up a palliative and reductive distortion of the civil rights movement, liberals effectively erase not only Malcolm X, but almost the entire revolutionary character of the civil rights movement; Martin Luther King Jr existed against a tumultuous and violent backdrop of rioting in which marginalised communities strove to assert themselves against an oppressive system which routinely and openly denigrated them. While MLK had his own perspective on the righteousness of rioting, this was not shared by all who were fighting for emancipation. Had there been no civil unrest as a threatening backdrop, MLKs tactics would likely have proved less effective in bringing lawmakers to the negotiating table.

Additionally, this liberal invocation of Martin Luther King Jr, with various sombre references to the world he envisioned in his famous “I Have A Dream” speech, betrays its insincerity in its depthlessness. Opinions are, of course, not static and towards the end of his life MLK had begun to show a greater understanding for rioting and its legitimacy as a means of political dissent. “Riots do not develop out of thin air… a riot is the language of the unheard.” While still critical of the effectiveness of riots in achieving political goals, MLK did not, in doing so, undermine the legitimate grievances of the working class, or fail to recognise the conditions from which riots emerge. That MLK’s actions and previous positioning allows disengaged liberals to pay lip-service to social progress- while simultaneously preserving their own economic interest- was perfectly encapsulated by such individuals accusing MLKs son of misappropriating his own father’s words. Perennially, these predominantly middle-class, predominantly white people stand atop the moral high ground, tutting paternalistically at the huddled masses who don’t know what’s good for them.

While this moralistic dismissal of rioters is most readily observable in the white middle-classes, themselves removed from the protests and brutality of police oppression, it does in fact cut across racial boundaries, revealing the class interests at the heart of these criticisms. In the face of civil disobedience and protests in Atlanta, Run The Jewels MC and landlord Killer Mike took to a podium with Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. While wearing a T-shirt reading “Kill Your Masters”, a visibly upset Mike cautioned protestors against “burning down our own homes”, despite black people in Atlanta making up the bulk of the city’s workforce while being disproportionately less likely to own a home. As Mike took the opportunity to encourage people to vote their way out of oppression with a mishmash of buzzwords,  absent from Mike’s T-shirt, the twin directive “Kill Your Idols” was a silent scream. 

Both white and black middle class self-styled leaders attempt to hijack the rhetoric and trajectory of social movements, bringing them into the orbit of their own class interests, namely the aspirational preservation of their wealth, status and property. Another key way in which this manifests itself is in the scapegoating of the “outside agitator”. While conservatives use rioting as an excuse to legitimise violent and oppressive policing- the mobilising of state-sanctioned tyranny against their political opponents- liberals make reference to the presence of “outside agitators” souring the character and spirit of the protest movement. This spectral opponent allows Democrat senators and mayors to use the presence of subversive elements as a welcome excuse to distance themselves from uncomfortable social truths, to pretend there is no civil unrest bubbling over in their own citizenry, that white nationalists and/or antifascist organisers are using their once idyllic towns and cities as battlegrounds for a shadowy proxy-war. In Cleveland, a city with a Democrat mayor, Police Chief Calvin Williams preemptively claimed that the majority of detainees during protests had been from out of state. Jail records later showed that not only were those arrested mostly from Cleveland, most were also black. Frequently this attitude and rhetoric extends also to social leaders both black and white aiming to demobilize the more radical elements within the social movement. This is not to deny the presence of such actors within a widespread and diverse movement with no centrally planned directives; but the characterisation and insistent blame of the bulk of property damage and looting on white fringe elements effectively erases the black working class involved in more radical action. Fearful of playing into stereotypes, and of acknowledging the destruction of property as a legitimate expression of outrage at a culture which values and protects property over people, liberals instead marginalise radical black activists and the working class in favour of an anaemic version of social justice which seeks only to improve their standing within the status quo.

Perhaps most egregious in liberal insistence that rioting sets back social progress by entrenching prejudicial beliefs is that this claim is patently false. As recently as 2014, the Ferguson riots following the murder of Michael Brown present a microcosm of events which are now playing out on the national (and international) level. Despite an onslaught of negative press coverage, recent research has shown that the attention commanded by the Ferguson riots led to a significant increase in those who feel equality is still an issue which needs to be addressed, even among republican voters. To bring this closer to home for a moment, the 1990 riots in the UK against the poll tax lead to the bill being repealed and Margaret Thatcher’s resignation.

The duplicity of liberal involvement with and commentary on social movements should be of concern to any who desire fundamental change. By allowing them to take the reigns, we set ourselves up for more of the same with regards to policing and government. Already emergent in the wake of discussions around police brutality following George Floyd’s murder is a schism between liberal “reformists” and the radical desire for the abolition of policing in its current form. Liberals, keen to preserve the state’s monopoly on violence, seem to think institutional racism can be overcome with a diet of increased funding, sensitivity training and increased accountability, completely disregarding that all such methods have been tried and tested time and again and the results are plain to see. Yet with their aspirational and actual class interest in the preservation of the sanctity of private property, liberals cannot envisage a world without the need for police as agents of property enforcement, and so will continue to be ineffectual conduits for manifest social change.

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.