Trade Union solidarity


I’m sure that you know, as I do, at least one trade union member who could stand to learn a little bit more about Israel and Palestine.

That person could be working at the desk next to you. Or it could be the president of your union.

If we are to effectively counter anti-Israel propaganda — and the growth of anti-semitism in the trade union movement — we need to get the widest possible distribution for the real news coming out of the region.

In the last month, TULIP’s website has told the story about the militant struggle being waged by Israeli workers — a struggle that is resulting in big union organizing wins that are hardly known outside the country. Here are some of the stories we ran in the last few weeks:

Meanwhile, our opponents keep saying that the campaign of boycotts, divestments and sanctions targetting the Jewish state is unstoppable, that unions everywhere are joining in, and so on. But TULIP is reporting that actually the trade union movement is deeply divided. Here are some of the stories we ran in the last month:

In other words — Israel has a vibrant, independent trade union movement that deserves the solidarity of trade unionists everywhere.

And in the international labour movement, a struggle is taking place between those like the German trade union leader Michael Sommer, a strong supporter of Israel, and South Africa’s Bongani Masuku, convicted of hate speech and yet still a spokesperson for COSATU.

For our side — those who support genuine peace and reconciliation based on a two-state solution — to win, we must get our message out to many more people.

Please forward this email on to trade unionists you know who need to be better informed.

Let’s try to change at least one mind.

Encourage people to sign up to join the TULIP mailing list at and to like TULIP on Facebook.


Have you seen this van in Redbridge?

You work when there’s work to be had. You can’t afford a new outfit for your brother’s wedding – let alone a present. Let alone a stag do. You’re angry and two things make you even angrier. One is people on benefits who look like they shouldn’t be. Another is people who don’t come from this country who live 5 to a room, work for their uncles, price your employer out of the market and you out of a job.

The Conservative-led coalition government is pretty sure you’ll fall into line behind their latest initiative.

Exacerbating community relations, by van

Exacerbating community relations, by van

The initiative is led by Mark Harper, Minister of State for Immigration and Conservative MP for the Forest of Dean – he’s @mark_j_harper on Twitter. The Government says:

“Over the next week, two vans will be driven around Hounslow, Barking & Dagenham, Ealing, Barnet, Brent and Redbridge and will show residents how many illegal migrants have recently been arrested in their area. They will also show a text number that migrants can message to arrange their return.”

Sometimes I’m afraid of the Conservatives and this is one of those times. Why would migrants abandon everything that is familiar, make a long, arduous and often treacherous journey to the UK only to then live in frankly dreadful conditions and work without rights or proper pay? Because they have nothing to lose where they were before. Perhaps their lives were under threat back home. Perhaps there was no work and no social security. Perhaps there was a war, or a mafia.

Make no mistake, you would do the same. That’s not to say that you have to put up with the situation. Like everybody else I want a working NHS and working public services – and those things depend on maintaining the proportion of taxpayers to service users. But nevertheless, you would do the same – and you would deserve compassion and assistance. Not for your neighbours to start associating you with images of handcuffs.

The trouble for me is that these poor, desperate people, who have moved here to become poor, lonely, exploited, desperate people, are the last people who should be targeted by the government. They are being treated as culprits when in fact they are victims. In some ways they are being treated as vermin to be cleared away.

The first question is, who is profiting from these people? Who is selling – and buying – goods and services at a price so low that the people working to deliver them cannot be paid a decent wage? Who is transporting the migrants, who is employing them, who are their slum landlords? These are the ones who need to be brought into line with the law. And if they keep within the law and there is still a problem, then the next question to ask is, why do migrants feel it would be better to nearly destitute themselves in Britain rather than remain where they were born? And then you will discover stories which make your heart heavy, which bring out the generosity of spirit that this government has given up on. And you will realise why the International Development budget exists.

It may well be that these vans form only part of wider government initiatives to make it hard for undocumented migrants to set up home here. As it is, though, these vans are on the streets of Redbridge and other London boroughs and they are the only part of the action that most people will ever see or hear about. And the message these vans are sending out is potentially a very damaging one. They make it seem as if the people who are here without permission are culprits and criminals who need to be taken away in handcuffs. The mixed message of the handcuffs and the “Let us help you” will bring out the worst fears of most migrants, I’d imagine – because my hunch is that the picture will speak louder than the words. And for the rest of us, whose right to be here isn’t under question, what are we supposed to think? To me, this is somewhere further along the line to official incitement against migrants than this country has seen for a long time.

This government thinks it is appropriate to try to gain support by turning us against some of the poorest and most vulnerable amongst us. I think the Conservatives are trying to make fools of us.

Preliminary thoughts about what to do next:

  • Ramfel (Refugee and Migrant Forum for East London – their Facebook page seems to be most recently updated) is concerned with community relations. If you spot the van, contact them so that they can take action to monitor the repercussions, and counter any misinformation about illegal immigrants. If you don’t use Facebook, then try – there you can also offer help leafleting.
  • Write you your MP
  • Write to Mark Harper.
  • As usual keep your criticism sharp and grounded, don’t rant, don’t exaggerate, don’t insult our public servants, and don’t forget that there is a massive fight for the scraps at the bottom of this society which is ripe for exploitation. Just make the best arguments possible.


  • The Twitter hashtag (shared with a bunch of random stuff) is #GoHome
  • The leader of Brent Council has made short statement of protest.
  • More from him on the BBC.
  • And here’s a video of Minister Mark Harper misrepresenting undocumented migration as a kind of anti-social petty crime, cut with shots of that nasty van.
  • @The_UK_Migrant points or that this new policy is likely to amount to stop and search.
  • Why shouldn’t London be less like Operation Wetback and more like New York?
  • Even the Daily Mail – bastion of anti-immigration sentiment – thinks the Go Home vans are ridiculous.
  • PICUM – the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants – is a good resource.
  • Nigel Farage is crowing about the Go Home Vans, rightly assuming that this is the Conservative response to the UKIP threat. When he then proceeds to call the campaign ‘nasty’ he fails to grasp the irony of this recognition.
  • It’s Saturday night and via Barkingside21 on Twitter I know of two reported sightings. Just two, in Kilburn and Willesden Green. Not a very busy or comprehensive tour, then. Perhaps the Go Home Van is feeling a little outlandish? Good.
  • The campaign has united leaders from all parties on Redbridge Council. They have sent Teresa May a unanimous message. It goes: 1) not about us without us and 2) fuck off with your rabble rousing.

Psychic wages

I think there’s another way to come at ‘economic rationality’ – everybody should earn the same living wage, and any particular shortfall based on individual circumstances be met through benefits. But we’re clearly a while away from that. Meanwhile here’s a good piece I missed at Marc Bousquet’s ‘How the University Works‘ – from it a nice piece of class-based reasoning about why a good society must make the work it needs to be done economically rational for workers to undertake, rather than relying on notions of job satisfaction and personal fulfilment i.e. psychic wages.

“But a labor market arranged around working for love – rather than fair compensation – is actually one of the most sexist, racist and economically discriminatory arrangements possible. From a class point of view, as I emphasize in Gose’s piece and elsewhere: by making the professoriate an economically irrational choice, you stop sorting for the most talented people and begin to sort for the people who can afford to discount their wages. That cuts out most people, period, making the best jobs in the academy largely a preserve for persons with fortunate economic backgrounds or circumstances.  And via the wealth gap, that primary economic discrimination has direct consequences for the racial composition of the faculty. By making it too hard to get a job, too arduous an apprenticeship, too poor of a return on education investment: only the wealthier among us are able to “irrationally choose” to accept psychic wages – and the wealthier among us are disproportionately white, just for starters. All of this has tremendous, documented consequences for the achievement and persistence of students from less advantaged economic circumstances and ethnicities poorly represented among the faculty.”

Read on and think about the Big Society, volunteering, internships, pensions as deferred wages, and the kind of workplace ‘helping’ which props up rotten systems.


On the BBC, programmes on activism and industrial action not to be missed

Perhaps in response to the predicted summer of rage, we are in the midst of great stuff on the BBC some of which are available for download for the next week or so:

The Miners’ Strike on BBC4 – a seriously high quality documentary about the 1984 miners’ strike mixing original footage, reconstructions and on-location interviews with police, government officials, striking miners and the still-pariah minority of working miners, and their wives. Solid gold (or should I say solid coal), although flinchingly violent and extremely emotional. You can’t watch this one again – try UKNova.

Tonight is another episode of the BBC4 series on the miners’ strike, Coal House At War, followed by All Our Working Lives: Cutting Coal and – perhaps the one I’m most interested in – My Strike, whose synopsis reads:

“Documentary looking at how going on strike became almost a rite of passage in earlier times, as the likes of Lord Tebbit, Greg Dyke, Peter Snow, Eddie Shah and Anne Scargill recall just what their strike meant to them.”

Call Yourself a Feminist – BBC Radio 4, first of a series beginning with a look back at the ’50s and ’60s with Sally Alexander, Sonia Fuentes, Elaine Showalter and others. Including the famous ‘bra burning’ reference which convinced the world looking back that there had been some kind of conflagration – there hadn’t. Betty Friedan:

The BBC is brilliant isn’t it. I’m going to make sure that when the bastards come for it, I’m ready.

Wanted: digital engagement director with knowledge of “jams”

This Cabinet Office job ad for a Director of Digital Engagement had us scratching our heads in the office.

“The successful applicant will

  • Introduce new techniques and software for digital engagement, such as ‘jams’ into Government”

Our crests fell – nary a one of us had ever heard of ‘jams’. Harakiri beckoned.

Then we discovered that The Register was similarly baffled.

“Er, such as… what? After asking around Shoreditch, this morning, I’m none the wiser. “Jams” doesn’t even seem to be in the Web 2.0 lexicon. But Kick In The Jams, it is, though.”

Is it an initiative test? Is one of those psychological experiments to see who has the confidence and/or integrity to request clarification on ‘jams’?

Yes, Tory papers, it’s overpaid. But only in the usual uninspired way employers communicate with prospective employees that their role is extremely important. Here, we love you, have some extra money. This is a fucking big job, not one to be derided with the sneery epithet ‘twittercrat’:

“This is not a role for a generalist. The professional skills required are formidable. Engagement in the digital space is a young ‘profession’ and the job requires someone who would be acknowledged by their peer group to be a leader in this field. The successful candidate will have a CV that creates instant credibility and confidence with Ministers, senior officials and digital communicators in Whitehall.”

Clay Shirky could do it. Somebody from MySociety?

Depressingly (and this is really beginning to make me sad) I think the Register is right when they say it’s going to be “jobs for the boys”.

Tube cleaners’ dispute update

Today was a bumper news day on the train – acquired a Times, a Mail and…. an Economist! Additionally I’m presented with a newspaper (always The Sun) every morning at the station by one of men who clears out the trains, which is very nice of him.

Since privatisation created the relatively new division of labour which established a dedicated cleaning-only grade (absolute abomination that anybody, anybody who doesn’t want to, should have to clean for a living) which could be contracted out from the core railway activities, there are legions of workers occupying cleaner-only roles in every station. I hear from people involved in the Tube Cleaners Strike that most station attendants don’t know the names of their cleaners – I thought that might be to do with flux but there is continuity in my stations and you can make acquaintances.

I’m not sure about the relationship between the cleaners on overground trains and those on the underground, but after negotiating London Living Wage of £7.45 for cleaners on Metronet and TubeLines (who subcontract to ISS who agreed to £7.45 by next April) contracts, the Tube Cleaners’ action is gearing up again to address conditions – holidays, sick pay, pension, third party sackings, and exploitation of workers with uncertain immigration status. Additionally, the pay deal has not yet been honoured by Metronet and ISS. There are several reasons things are stalling. One is deplorable schisms between the different organisations involved (exploited by the companies). The RMT successfully integrated cleaners into an all-grade union – the tireless work by experienced activists to elicit cleaners’ needs and formulated them into demands, as well as the support of drivers and station staff, helped to win the pay deal. Consequently union activists are appropriating the action as union action, but from what I can gather they haven’t worked out effective means of re-engaging their grass roots. It is important to engage members and avoid giving into the temptation to implement top-down action upon these mostly female, mostly immigrant, often disorganised cleaners. And it is important to record and evidence grievances. Another diversion is the competition for members from T&G – from what I can gather the RMT built this action and the T&G (Unite) were an undermining force.

The action united practically every section of the centre and left when it began last summer, and made national news and periodicals like the New Statesman. Hopefully can again. I’ve seen human faeces, used condoms, vomit, bones, chewing gum, ketchup – you name it, on trains. Most passengers will at some time in their lives, sit in a urine-sodden seat (not me yet). Cleaners deserve excellent recompense for dealing with our carelessness and filth. If they can get it together sufficiently they’ll need a strike fund, and personally I’ll be putting into it.

The AWL reports from August.

Anyway, one of the best things I came across today was in The Sun after all. When I think about it at all, I’m ambivalent about antipathetic to Page 3. Loveable incorrigible and unpert contrarian Julie Burchill isn’t.

Photography, polar bear of professions

Last year I said OK to an author who asked for one of my pictures of Cressing Temple Barn to use in his book about the Knights Templar. Then Schmap asked for one of my photos of the Great Eastern Hotel. I said yes – notwithstanding the squeeze on professional photographers who are forced to resort to more and more inconvenient and/or hazardous quests to compete with the general public.

I said yes because in the years when I had more time than money, I myself frequently acquired copyright in this way. Other reasons: it cost me nothing, Schmap is free and authors of niche books do it for love not money.

The fact is that uploads to photo-sharing sites like Flickr are increasing steadily. Even if a tiny proportion are marketable – and even the worst photographer strikes lucky occasionally – the  overall result is a repository of cheap, decent images. My photo of Cressing Temple Barn was very good, and although the Great Eastern Hotel could have been better focused, Schmap shrunk it so it doesn’t matter – high quality imaging is not what people who use Schmap need or want. The value professional photographers resides in our need for professionally-taken photographs. The circumstances in which we want or need this high quality – weddings, food porn, marketing etc – seem to be decreasing in comparison to the circumstances when we don’t – most notably, news.

Professional photographers are scared for their livelihoods because of unmediated relations between people like me and organisations like Schmap, and this must feel both demoralising and scarey.

But the idea that they deserve special conservation measures doesn’t convince me. It’s not that I’m a free market radical – I’d entertain the idea of subsidies and special measures for some professions we want to keep in Britain. It’s just that I don’t think the kinds of photographers we’d like to hold onto are under any pressure from the average joe and their camera.