It’s down to us but most importantly, it’s down to YOU!

The point of our project at South Essex Radical Media (SERM) with our publications, The South Essex Stirrer and The Estuary Alternative, and our alliance with Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) is simple – to inspire, encourage and support people to take action at the grassroots in order to bring about meaningful change.

SERM is basically about propaganda. It’s our job to report on what we see across the region we cover and, not just point out what’s wrong but to stir people up to start acting collectively to bring about change. BASHA are community and housing activists. As well as holding Basildon Council to account for their repeated failings, they aim to encourage residents and tenants on the estates to start taking collective action to bring about change.

This is why we and BASHA support and facilitate the work of groups such as the Vange Hill Community Group (VHCG) and help to facilitate actions such as this: Doing it for ourselves on the ¾ estate in Vangehttps://theestuaryalternative.wordpress.com/2017/12/03/doing-it-for-ourselves-on-the-3/4-estate-in-vange/ It’s not for us to tell VHCG what to do – their supporters live on the estate and know exactly what needs to be done! All we do is provide logistical support and some equipment on clean up days and help them to produce their propaganda. We hope that what VHCG do will act as an example to other estates and inspire people to start collectively taking action.

With The Estuary Alternative, the ultimate aim is to hand the project over to grassroots activists in the region while we move on to other initiatives. As stated in this piece: The future of this project…https://theestuaryalternative.wordpress.com/2017/12/11/the-future-of-this-project/ we don’t want to be lumbered with the job of finding content for it for ever and a day. The aim of The Estuary Alternative is to foster a greater degree of communication and co-operation between and among the range of grassroots groups operating in the region. That means that ultimately, it has to end up as a collective, collaborative project…

There are only a few of us and we have to be focused on what we can achieve with what are limited resources. Running The South Essex Stirrer and the On Uncertain Ground blogs (and the paper) takes up a lot of our time and energy which is why when we launch an initiative such as The Estuary Alternative, we really do want other grassroots activists to eventually take it off our hands!

It’s the same with BASHA, there are only a few of them and they want to focus on their roles of a) holding Basildon Council to account and b) facilitating and supporting grassroots groups and activists on the estates. They are not a back up service to be called upon when the roads haven’t been gritted or the rubbish hasn’t been collected. If residents and tenants want to act together to deal with issues like this, BASHA will happily support and facilitate them but they’re not going to do the bloody job for them!

We’ve had a fair few discussions about this dilemma that we’re facing and why people look to us to do stuff rather than them collectively doing it for themselves. There’s no single answer to this…

In the case of BASHA, on a growing number of estates, it’s a toxic cocktail of factors such as a general collapse of morale in the face of austerity plus demographic reasons such as the growing number of buy to let landlords and houses of multiple occupation leading to a constant churn in the population. Atomisation isn’t just a word bandied about by sociologists in academia – it’s the brutal reality we increasingly find on the estates.

With SERM, our biggest headache is getting other people to write for our blogs. We do get a few guest pieces for which we are incredibly grateful but we still have to do a lot of the legwork in terms of sourcing content. To broaden our reach we’re increasingly using re-blogs and cut and pasting media releases from groups we trust but it’s no substitute for having a rota of regular contributors. With all of our publications, we really want to open them up to as many individual groups and activists as possible to make them truly representative of what’s going on.

Drawing to a conclusion, it seems that we are up against the evils of demoralisation and atomisation on the estates and a worrying degree of complacency in a number of grassroots groups who seem happy to plod along doing the same old thing rather than reach out, link up and step up a gear. Going into what is looking to be a turbulent and unpredictable 2018, we’re going to need as much solidarity as can be mustered to deal with the onslaught that’s coming our way.

We don’t pretend to have the answers to this dilemma by any stretch of the imagination. We’re more than happy to listen to what other people have to say on the problems of demoralisation, atomisation and passivity and how they think they can be overcome. We admit that this piece can be seen as us venting some of our frustrations! Having said that, the intention is to foster a constructive discussion on how we can move forward and get ourselves into a position where we can deal with whatever 2018 throws at us…

Some perspective…

This short tribute was originally published by the Independent Working Class Association. We’re posting this in a bid to bring some perspective to the somewhat heated discussions about identity politics that are currently taking place in anarchist and radical movements…

On this day in 1969 Fred Hampton, Chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, died. Hampton was murdered by state forces assigned to the office of Attorney Edward Hanrahan, whose anti-gang rhetoric Fred had called a “war on black youth”.

Fred Hampton began his political journey in the Youth Wing of the NAACP. Hampton was soon attracted to the Black Panther Party and was inspired by its working class socialist vision as outlined in the 10 Point Program.

He then joined the Illinois chapter of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee where, alongside his comrades, he began to score gains. These gains included, but were not limited to, encouraging and negotiating a nonviolence pact between Chicago street gangs.

Hampton realised the class nature of the struggle against poverty, racism and all other by-products of capitalism, including black struggles. He strove to push identity aside and ploughed time and effort into bringing together working class people of all races on a common ticket, one of social class.

Hampton and the rest of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party forged alliances with the Hispanic Young Lords and the white migrant Appalachian Young Patriots Organisation. The Black Panther Party in general, Illinois chapter in particular under Hampton, without foregoing the specific struggles faced by their own part of the community, pushed a class agenda.

This was the unifying factor upon which they chose to lay their foundations, under the leadership of Hampton. This is what the state and capitalist society found most terrifying: working class people foregoing arbitrary notions of identity, instead emphasising what brings us all together. For this, they murdered Fred Hampton in cold blood in his bed.

We learn from the past to shape the present and the future, and we must look at and become the legacy of genuine working class heroes such as Fred Hampton and the Black Panther Party.

Rest In Peace Fred Hampton!

New Town Utopia

‘New Town Utopia is a feature documentary film about utopian dreams and concrete realities… the challenging, funny, and sometimes tragic story of the British new town of Basildon, Essex. The narrative is guided by the artists, musicians and poets of Basildon – on a journey through memory, place and performance. Facing austerity, adversity and personal battles they are individuals driven by creative spirit to help their community through art, poetry, music… and some rather angry puppets.’

See here for more information about this film: http://www.newtownutopia.com/

The film is about the vision the post war Labour government had for the New Towns and how that contrasts to the stark reality of what Basildon is like today. There’s footage of tired looking estates with the inevitable cracked and broken paths with the actor, Jim Broadbent, speaking the words of the Labour MP, Lewis Silken, as he articulated his vision for what the New Towns could be.

The vision of what Basildon could have been – a town largely self sufficient in employment with the new estates having a mixed population living side by side, in an environment of well designed, inspiring architecture interspersed with plenty of green space remained just that, a vision. Sure, up until the 1980s, there was plenty of manufacturing industry along the north side of Basildon by the A127. As those of us who are old enough to remember, the 1980s saw the next phase of de-industrialisation and the new factories that were optimistically built in the late 1950s and early 1960s closed one by one, destroying skilled jobs in the process. What has replaced them is an endless sea of warehouses offering little in the way of skilled labour but plenty in the way of short term and zero hours contracts.

Regarding housing, as the film points out, the right to buy in the 1980s and the individualistic mindset that came in with it started the break up of what sense of social solidarity and community there was on the new estates. The one flaw we could find in the film was the way it didn’t cover what happened to many of these properties after the owners had flogged them and left for the leafier pastures of Wickford and Billericay. Namely the growing number of buy to let landlords, a fair few of who are total scumbags who bear a responsibility for the rising number of homes of multiple occupation and the slum conditions residents of these properties have to endure.

What we loved about the film was the way it gave locals a voice. Okay, there was a bias towards the arts community in Basildon but that’s no bad thing. Yes, we did say arts community and Basildon in the same sentence – just because you’re working class, it doesn’t mean that you can’t express yourself in a creative way. In the 1970s, when there was still an air of optimism about what the place could be, there was an arts scene supported by public funding that encouraged ordinary people to participate and express themselves. Needless to say, when the 1980s came along, a lot of that went as it didn’t ‘contribute’ to the bottom line… However, even though a lot of the arts infrastructure was cut from Basildon, the musicians, artists and poets featured in the film simply kept going, relying on a ‘do it yourself’ ethos and a spirit of defiance.

This film is brutally honest about the gulf between the original vision for Basildon and the reality of life in the town now as it’s ravaged by austerity and the social problems that come with it. Problems that our friends at Basildon & Southend Housing Action – https://www.facebook.com/basacton/ – are only too familiar with… It’s not just the estates that are bearing the brunt of this – a walk round the town centre will show an ever increasing number of empty shop units as the economic climate gets harsher and the shoppers who still have money either go to the big malls at places like Westfield and Bluewater or shop online. The ‘green lungs’ that were planned in as parks are increasingly seen as development opportunities by a council that only values what it sees on the bottom line. The desecration of a significant chunk of Gloucester Park, which is next to the town centre, by a private housing development aimed at commuters is one example of this narrow mindset.

All in all, this is a film that is brutally honest, moving in parts and funny (in a gallows humour kind of way) in others. We’d recommend watching it so people can get a picture of what working class life in the new towns is like. There is one proviso – any documentary like this is a snapshot in time and life moves on. With outward migration from London, as the demographic and ethnic mix of Basildon alters, the town will see a lot of changes in the next decade or so. Maybe, with the right kind of social movement, that will offer an opportunity to try and realise some of the original vision for the new town, albeit tailored to the 21st century…




Bookfair diary

We’ve just started a Bookfair diary – https://onuncertainground.wordpress.com/bookfairdiary/ – on this blog. The aim of this diary is to promote the growing number of regional anarchist / radical bookfairs that are taking place across the British Isles. With the London Anarchist Bookfair collective saying they won’t be organising one in 2018, the focus will be shifting to what’s going on in the regions. No two bookfairs are the same and we’re pretty sure that once the diary starts to fill up, there will be an interesting variety of events to attend, support, help to build and participate in. We recognise that the London Anarchist Bookfair had grown to an international event and it will be missed. However, there’s plenty of life outside of London and we want to do our level best to help promote that…

If you’re involved in organising an anarchist / radical bookfair anywhere across the British Isles in 2018, get in touch with us here – seradicalmedia@protonmail.com – with the relevant details and we’ll put them up on diary page with a booster post on the front page of this blog as well.

Getting on with it…

One of the problems with anarchism are certain elements who are only too willing to criticise comrades involved in campaigns, grassroots community projects, actions and the like but who never seem to get out and do anything themselves. This post is a celebration of people and groups who just go out and get on with stuff – people and groups we’ll do our level best to support. Before we go any further, here’s a little warning… Some of those mentioned are not political in any way shape or form – they’re just local residents frustrated at the inaction of their local councils and who’ve decided to take matters into their own hands…

A couple of us volunteer as gardeners at the community run Hardie Park in Stanford-le-Hope – https://www.facebook.com/LoveHardiePark/ We remember what it was like back in 2007 and 2008 when we contested the Stanford East & Corringham Town ward for the Independent Working Class Association. It was a litter strewn, unloved no go area that most local people tried to avoid. Now, it’s a much loved, well used community asset although as the volunteers will admit, there’s still a lot more that needs to be done to bring the park up to the standard we’d like! The point is that now the park is being well maintained, more people are using it and with the volunteer run cafe, it’s becoming a hub for the local community. The benefits of this in health and well being are plain for all to see.

The residents who’ve taken over the running of Hardie Park wouldn’t see themselves as having an overt political agenda – all they want is a park that’s a valuable community asset. Yes, there’s a bit of a hierarchy with the running of the park and we know anarcho purists would hate it. As far as we’re concerned it’s a) a project that has made a tangible difference to the quality of life in Stanford-le-Hope and b) in it’s own way, it’s bringing aspects of running a community asset closer to the grassroots. That ticks enough boxes for us to actively support it.

Then there’s the Billericay Community Gardenhttps://www.facebook.com/billericaycommunitygarden/ This was started by a small group of local residents on a patch of overgrown ground behind a vicarage. The aim of the project is to get locals interested in growing their own food with as little impact on the environment as possible – the emphasis is very much on the organic. Along with our friends at Basildon & Southend Housing Action, we helped them in their first year with the donkey work at the site and advising them on setting up a committee. It’s a project that’s had a few ups and downs but at the moment, as you can see from the photos on their Facebook page, it’s thriving.

Southend…it must be something in the air because there’s a lot going on down there… It’s about people seeing a problem and rather than waiting for someone else to deal with it, they get on and fix it themselves. In a similar, organic gardening vein to the above, there’s the Southend in Transition Community Allotmenthttps://www.facebook.com/SiTcommunityAllotment/ Promoting repair and re-use as opposed to chucking stuff in the bin when it breaks, here’s the SouthMenders Southend Repair Cafehttps://www.facebook.com/southendintransition/ Southend Little Free Pantryhttps://www.facebook.com/southendlfp/ in their own words ‘is a place where members of our community can come to help themselves to a few groceries to help them through a time of need, whether it is financially or mobility impaired. It is also there as a judgement free space where people can share what they don’t need and possibly exchange for something they *are* in need of.’ These are just some of the people we worked with towards the end of last year going into this one to build the Southend Radical Fair that took place at The Railway on Saturday May 8th.

For a full list of local groups who get things done, take a look at the sidebar of The Estuary Alternative blog which is our sister project created specifically to support and promote positive initiatives along the Thames estuary – https://theestuaryalternative.wordpress.com/ All of the above groups in their own individual ways are playing a part in building a new, better world inside the decaying, dysfunctional one we currently endure. We’re proud to do what we can to offer our support to these initiatives. Sure, a lot of them wouldn’t satisfy the demanding criteria of the nitpicking, purist element of what passes for an anarchist movement these days. Tough… To be honest, we much prefer to deal with the above mentioned who get things done rather than some elements in the anarchist movement who just give us a sodding headache.

We’ve been working closely with Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA)https://www.facebook.com/basacton/ since the early part of 2014. A lot of that work is hands on practical work on the estates. That means the community clean ups and gardening we’ve done on Nursery Gardens in Laindon, the Pattocks and on the ¾ estate in Vange. This is what BASHA did working alongside members of the local community at the Pattocks: Cleaning up the Pattockshttps://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/08/31/cleaning-up-the-pattocks/ It’s working alongside members of the community who care about their estates, are pissed off with being brushed off by Basildon Council and have taken it upon themselves to make a practical difference. We do wonder if some of our anarcho critics would like an afternoon of strimming, fishing used nappies out of dense undergrowth, unblocking street drains and the like, bagging all of the trash up and taking it down to the tip… If any of them do fancy a change, they’re more than welcome to get in touch and come down for the next clean up.

Recently, us and BASHA have teamed up with the Vange Hill Community Group (VHCG)https://www.facebook.com/groups/180311358699122/ who are working their butts off to improve conditions on the ¾ estate in Vange. This is exactly the kind of grassroots group we want to see on the estates – if every estate in Basildon had a group like this, there would be some changes! What we do is support, advise and facilitate the work of VHCG. This is just one of many posts we’ve put up on the South Essex Stirrer highlighting the issues and the shite VHCG and BASHA have to deal with: Silencedhttps://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/10/25/silenced/

We do get into London on occasions but…we pick and choose who we support. The criteria is supporting groups that get stuff done. One of them is Focus E15 Mothershttps://www.facebook.com/focuse15/ We’ve attended a few of their weekly stalls on Stratford Broadway and have marched with them on some of their protests as well: Marching from tower to towerhttps://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/08/14/marching-from-tower-to-tower/ With Newham Council and the housing associations they use dumping their residents in places such as Pitsea away from family, friends and support network, we have a shared interest in supporting Focus E15 Mothers. We can’t for the life of us understand why they’re not listed on the back page of Rebel City, the paper that supports a number (but not all) of the radical groups in London. Oh hang on, we do know…it’s because the work of Focus E15 Mothers is facilitated by the Revolutionary Communist group. The wrong ‘ism’ so despite the importance of the work of Focus E15 Mothers, they don’t get a look in at the moment. This is the kind of anarcho purist sectarianism that does our sodding heads in!

Last but by no means least, there are our mates from Class Warhttps://www.facebook.com/ClassWarOfficial/ As and when we can get into London, we’ve supported their protests ranging from the weekly ‘No Poor Doors’ pickets a few years ago outside the One Commercial Street development in Aldgate to the ongoing actions outside the sick abomination that’s the Jack the Ripper ‘museum’ on Cable Street. For obvious security reasons, we don’t want to go into too much detail about what we get up to with them but suffice to say they make their point, they’re fun and they know what comradeship is about…

That’s it and that’s us…getting on with it and supporting a diverse range of groups who do the same. As you will have gathered from reading the above, we’re not purists – we happily support any radical / alternative / grassroots groups that are willing to get stuck in and get results. They’re not perfect but if they’re travelling in the same broad direction of travel, we’ll back them. Come to think of it we’re not perfect but we’re happy to listen to constructive criticism and learn lessons from our mistakes…

Another ‘church and king’ mob?

The second appearance of the Football Lads Alliance (FLA) on the streets of London on Saturday 7th October is causing a fair amount of head scratching on our end of the political spectrum as people are working towards an understanding of where they’re coming from. The FLA march, numbered in the tens of thousands, was called in response to recent terror attacks in Britain. It took place when there was a break in the Premier League and Championship fixtures to accommodate the qualifying matches for the next World Cup, although Leagues One and Two and all of non league football went ahead as normal on the day.

Unlike the EDL in 2010, the two FLA marches that have been called so far have been completely devoid of national flags – all that has been seen have been club crests and insignia and wreaths in memory of those killed by terror attacks in Britain. It would seem that the organisers in the FLA are doing what they can to avoid their movement being accused of having fascist tendencies by discouraging displays of flags or political insignia associated with the far right. It’s this seemingly disciplined appearance that has got some people on our side wondering if there’s something new emerging that may be worth engaging with.

Some historical perspective is needed here… Type the phrase ‘church and king mob’ into any search engine and you’ll come up with plenty of pieces about reactionary mobs essentially doing the work of the ruling class in maintaining the established order and quelling dissent. Here’s one example of their manifestation: Priestly Riotshttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Priestley_Riots Here’s a lengthy examination of plebeian reaction which should inform our analysis of where the FLA are coming from: Popular Loyalism and Public Violence in the North-West of England, 1790-1800https://www.jstor.org/stable/4285276?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

These examples come in the period before industrialism and what’s considered to be the formation of the working class. While the Industrial Revolution did lead to class conflict and working class militancy, it never had the edge that would push it towards full blown revolution. This is because the British ruling class have always conceded just enough in the way of reforms to keep uprisings at bay. As the 19th century progressed into the 20th, it was the spoils of empire that would be used to pay for these reforms and concessions. Allied with some pretty effective propaganda, the ruling class have managed to keep the lid on any meaningful dissent that would threaten their interests. This piece in the Telegraph by the conservative writer Charles Moore acknowledges the contribution of these factors into creating the kind of working class Toryism that could well be informing the strategy of the FLA: A vast, loyal band of working-class Conservativeshttp://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/columnists/charlesmoore/7983677/A-vast-loyal-band-of-working-class-Conservatives.html

The FLA could be seen as a twenty first century manifestation of the traditional ‘church and king’ mob. This is what veteran anarchist, Martin Lux argues here: FOOTBALL LADS ALLIANCE “MARCH AGAINST TERRORISM”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fArtDmZS2RQ This is what was said about the English Defence League when they first emerged: The EDL: a “Church and King Mob”https://liveraf.wordpress.com/2010/12/17/the-edl-a-church-and-king-mob/ There are certainly fascists circling around the FLA looking for recruits to their cause and this has to be monitored. However, it could be said that the more patriotic, reactionary elements within the ranks of the FLA might find fascism a bit too ‘continental’ for their tastes and may well prefer a more historical form of reaction.

The FLA may like to think they’re countering the nihilistic, random terror inflicted by ISIS / Daesh. It has to be pointed out there there are people putting their lives on the line to fight ISIS / Daesh: War on Isis: Western fighters joining Kurds to fight terror group in Iraq and Syriahttp://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/western-fighters-joining-the-kurds-to-fight-isis-in-iraq-and-syria-a7041136.html while the likes of the FLA are merely posturing on the streets of London.

It could well be said that the FLA are unwittingly acting as the ‘useful idiots’ of the ruling class. While protesting against the likes of ISIS / Daesh, they were seemingly happy to march past near empty apartment blocks bought as ‘investment opportunities’ on Park Lane and in nearby Mayfair without batting an eyelid. Whether this is through ignorance or an unhealthy level of deference to the super rich is a matter for debate. The fact is that the FLA are acting as a diversion from the real forces that are screwing us over. A diversion that the establishment must be privately celebrating as yet again, they get let off the hook.

How do we deal with the FLA? We haven’t got all the answers yet but we would like to offer a few suggestions. Calling them fascists is counter-productive – as stated earlier, fascism’s a bit too ‘continental’ for people who prefer a more traditional form of expression for their patriotism and reaction. A degree of historical understanding of reactionary elements within the working class in Britain is needed to inform any strategy that needs to be devised to counter the FLA – some of the links listed above are a tentative start to this process. Exposing the reactionary elements in the FLA as the ‘useful idiots’ of the ruling class is essential but that can only be done if we can successfully articulate our vision of what working class solidarity should be.

To say that the project of articulating a vision of working class solidarity has been undermined by the rise of identity politics is an understatement! However, that is an ongoing debate which we have touched on in previous posts in On Uncertain Ground and one we intend to return to in the future. To conclude, this post has to be seen as our initial reaction to the rise of the FLA and as a work in progress that will hopefully be part of a constructive debate on how we deal with this latest manifestation on the streets.