Monthly Archives: January 2011

Anti-Semitism in Manchester?

by nineteensixtyseven

There have been a number of press reports today uncritically reporting that NUS President Aaron Porter was subjected to anti-Semitic abuse ahead of the demo in Manchester.  It is possible that the reports are true.  If this is the case  then it is clearly a very serious incident and should be totally condemned in no uncertain terms as a sinister development in the ongoing debate around his leadership.  However, it is necessary to look closer at the reports in the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph and on Sky before we reach any conclusions.

The Daily Mail reports that “One photographer reported chants of ‘Tory Jew scum’” and on the basis of this anonymous source constructs its story.  Sky asserts without supporting evidence or an indication of any source that demonstrators ‘surrounded him, chanting anti-Semitic insults and calling for him to resign as he attended the rally’ and the Telegraph reports that unnamed ‘Witnesses report that among the chants directed at him from a small number of demonstrators were “——- Tory Jew”. So far we have as evidence a photographer and unnamed witnesses as the basis of these news stories.

It is interesting to note that the allegations of anti-Semitism do not appear on the Guardian’s coverage of the Manchester demo nor the recently updated BBC report, which says only that a ‘small but loud group also made their views heard about wanting to replace the National Union of Students president, Aaron Porter.’  Only the right-wing media outlets have been stressing this particular angle of the story, with Reuters neglecting to mention it.  Do the other media outlets not trust its basis in truth? It is quite possible from the hostile tone of their previous coverage that the Mail, Telegraph and Sky are pushing their own political agenda to discredit student protesters on the basis of flimsy supporting evidence.

Footage has emerged of the final moments of the demonstration which suggest one source of potential confusion:

The chant, “Aaron Porter, we know you.  You’re a fucking Tory too!” is clearly audible and it is one that most of us familiar with demos have heard, whether with reference to Porter or Nick Clegg.  The Mail, too, reports this as being the main chant, basing their story on the separate utterance, ‘Tory Jew scum’ as allegedly heard by a photographer.  The Telegraph, however, reports the anti-Semitic chanting as “——- Tory Jew” which is very similar in sound to ‘Tory too’ and makes no mention of ‘Tory Jew scum’.

This similarity has been noticed by Edinburgh Anti-Cuts who attended the demo and wrote on Twitter that “Reports #Manchester chanting ‘you’re a Tory jew’ to Aaron Porter today – Not true – actual chant was ‘You’re a Tory too’ #demo2011#dayx.”  An eye-witness account by a member of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty also fails to mention the anti-Semitic angle, and this is from a group known for its sensitivity to anti-Semitism on the Left. If we accept the reasonable possibility that the Telegraph has conflated ‘Tory Jew’ and ‘Tory too’ then this leaves us with only the word of an unnamed photographer as the substantive basis for these allegations.

In fact, the Mail goes further by positing a direct causality between the alleged anti-Semitic remarks and Porter pulling out of the rally in Manchester.  This seems to be stretching the facts too far because it see more likely that Porter knew the rest of the general crowd would be hostile.  Debates about his leadership have been ongoing for weeks and student unions have been preparing motions of no confidence in his presidency.  If this was Porter’s reasoning then it was sound because the reception given to his Vice President, Shane Chowen, from the much larger crowd at the rally forced him off the platform.  On this point, then, the Mail article is potentially misleading.  It is also misleading of Sky and the Telegraph to assert that demonstrators ‘surrounded [Porter], chanting anti-Semitic insults’ if, as the Telegraph appears to suggest, it was only ‘a small number of demonstrators’ who are alleged to have used anti-Semitic terms and even this is open to dispute in the Telegraph’s account of events.

Again, it is quite possible that some anti-Semitic remarks were made.  That the rest of the protesters, according to the Telegraph, chanted “No to racism, no to racism” suggests that this might have been the case.  However, reasons for suspicion lie in the fact that the only outlets to report this angle of the story are right-wing and politically biased against students.  Moreover, the sources are unnamed and potentially conflicting, and it is possible that the Telegraph’s ‘witnesses’ misheard a more innocuous chant.  In the absence of stronger corroborating evidence and video footage proving the allegations of anti-Semitism the student movement has to be careful about debilitating smears from the Tory press whilst also making it clear, if the reports are true, that no form of racism can ever be tolerated in our movement.

UPDATE:  See another good analysis from Alex Andrews which has a definite chronology to the news reports in a way that I was technically incapable of finding out!

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Egyptian riot cops running away

For some other updates on the anti-Mubarak protests in Egpyt, check out the freeegypt Youtube channel and the We Are All Khaled Said Facebook page.

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Student Union election manifesto

Student Union elections are coming up on a lot of campuses this term. Time to dust off an old post I wrote last year. Try not to vote for people who say things like this:

Hi. I’m running for [position] in [students’ union name] because I care about what the union can do for you. I am a friendly and approachable person with the passion and commitment to take our union forward. I am passionate about my CV and committed to my future career.

I have lots of experience sitting on some committee you’ve never heard of in a position you didn’t elect, where my spineless toadying brought minimal changes. I was head [boy/girl] at my school full of rich kids who faced no actual problems, and for some reason think that this fact is relevant to my campaign for a leadership position in a union. I have also served as [treasurer/secretary/persistent arse licker] of the debating society which is weird because I have no discernible opinions about anything.

I will aim to represent all students rather than push a political agenda, because I’m afraid that if I tell people what I think about things, they will disagree with me. I will rise above factional politics by refusing to ever commit myself to anything. Students are sick of politics getting in the way of achieving change. I will improve communication by sending out more of the same emails that people will, for some reason, actually read this year.

Some people say that students have become apathetic. To them I say: I don’t care about this. But I will put my name to some wanky liberal campaigns that no-one except a hard-right nut-bar could complain about. Probably something to do with the environment. But I pledge to continue to use the myth of student apathy as a cover for my right-wing views.

I have no principles in which to ground my policies so I will just write the first thing that comes into my head, something like [more vending machines/more student discounts/something vague to do with sports facilities] to make it sound like I’ve actually thought anything through.

I think it’s imperative that we keep the cap on tuition fees because I want to pay lip service to a tradition of student radicalism to which I have never belonged. We can achieve this through mature negotiations and not mindless activism. I passionately believe that people are stupid enough to fall for this crap. We need to find dynamic and efficient new ways of sitting on our arse for a whole year while the Higher Education sector is smashed to pieces.

Vote for me because I am the pragmatic, experienced candidate and I will deliver on my promises, if you can remind me what any of them were. Here is a photo of me in some costume or other during freshers’ week to remind you that I like a laugh, really. And in the end, isn’t that what student unions are really about?

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ReelNews: Blacklisted

I just came across this excellent short documentary from Reel News about blacklisting in the construction industry, made last year.

It covers all sorts from the Shrewsbury pickets in the 1970s, to the attempted use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act against trade unionist Steve Acheson in 2009.

You can order this and more Reel News stuff here.

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Adventures in Music and Politics III: Robb Johnson

by Edd Mustill

When I caught up with singer Robb Johnson before a gig in a small Brentford pub, it was like meeting an old friend in some ways. He was instrumental in my discovery of “political” music when my dad picked up a copy of his Tony Blair: My part in his downfall in a shop in Derbyshire many years ago.

Last year he released a new album, Man Walks Into a Pub, and collaborated with Leon Rosselson on The Liberty Tree, a concept album charting the life of Thomas Paine. The latter is a project you could only expect from radical musicians. Robb has been operating from his own label, Irregular Records, for twenty-five years. What’s wrong with mainstream labels?

“They won’t do anything… since punk, they’re scared of anything they can’t control.”

In any case, he says, “People need to create their own culture.”

Perhaps that’s more difficult than it sounds. For a while, around London at least, anything folky has evoked the image of young, privately-educated people singing about the problems that young, privately-educated people have. Beyond universal platitudes, there is precious little that most people can relate to in the lyrics of the Johnny Flynns and Laura Marlings who populate the “singer-songwriter” genre.

They may have benefited from the same de-politicisation of folk music that Robb sees as responsible for something much more sinister:

“When I first started going to folk clubs in the 1970s they were great places,” he says. “Then they became museums, the politics was taken out, and that’s what allowed the BNP to claim that music as their own… it’s about a fairytale England.”

This is something that comes through on the best track of his latest album, A Place in the Country, which is about “our” history versus “theirs,” as represented by country houses and the like:

“And it’s all built on slavery, legalised theft/
From Bombay to Bradford they worked us to death/
In their mines and their mills, now there’s nothing much left/
And it wasn’t that merry to start with.”

While folk music was never an exclusive left-wing paradise, there is something in this argument. And it is linked to wider social processes too. Robb also sees long-term causes as responsible for the success of things like X Factor:

“The shared working class cultural experiences have gone… it’s like football. Most people consume their football by watching it on Sky TV down the pub.”

Much of his music is about these shared experiences, football included. In Life is Football he reminds us, “It’s not like on the telly/But then real life never is.”

It is about rescuing something real from the brutal fantasies of capitalist celebrity that surround us. The mixture of anarchism, cheek, emotion, and everyday existence that makes up most of Robb Johnson’s songs makes for genuine, conscious, working class music.

There is definitely a space for this. Robb himself notes that more folk clubs are appearing in London as pubs agree put on more nights as they try to fight off closure.

But will we see a folk-revival-revival? Or post-post-punk? Or something altogether new?

“Is four minutes thirty-three seconds of silence the best we’ve got?” asks Robb.

Let’s hope not.

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Rosa Luxemburg 1871-1919

“The specialisation of professional activity as trade-union leaders, as well as the naturally restricted horizon which is bound up with disconnected economic struggles in a peaceful period, leads only too easily, amongst trade-union officials, to bureaucratism and a certain narrowness of outlook. Both, however, express themselves in a whole series of tendencies which may be fateful in the highest degree for the future of the trade-union movement. There is first of all the overvaluation of the organisation, which from a means has gradually been changed into an end in itself, a precious thing, to which the interests of the struggles should be subordinated. From this also comes that openly admitted need for peace which shrinks from great risks and presumed dangers to the stability of the trade-unions, and further, the overvaluation of the trade-union method of struggle itself, its prospects and its successes.”

The Mass Strike

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Save EMA protest flyer

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