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Anglais : Britain, London, Eyewitness to the London riots - it's all about class
Posté le jeudi 11 aot 2011 @ 05:33:53
Workers Solidarity* interviewed Hackney local and education worker Alex Carver about the roots of the London riots. And, Britain, Edinburgh Anarchist Federation, In the ashes of a riot by T la Palli.

Britain, London, Eyewitness to the London riots - it's all about class

Workers Solidarity* interviewed Hackney local and education worker Alex Carver about the roots of the London riots. Alex is a long standing activist in the IWW union, housing struggles in the East End, and the big left events since the start of the recession, most recently the M26 Militant Workers Block and the J30Strike project. He was a direct witness to the rioting on Monday. Here he tells Workers Solidarity why he thinks that the riots are best understood by loooking at class rather than race. ---- You went down to have a look at the riots, were you not afraid of being beaten and mugged, from media scare mongering that's what would be expected by most people? ---- Well, I had no idea what to expect exactly, which is why I went, but no I wasn’t – and I'm not scared by the riots now. I'm not about to glorify them either, but this is not the start of a new dark age.

What's happened in the rioting is an understandable reaction to the way things are set up – I’m reminded of the famous bank robber Willie Sutton answering the question ‘why do you rob banks?’ with ‘because that’s where the money is’. The kids robbed the shops because that's where the stuff is. They attacked the cops because they'd stop them. It was simultaneous, it was not two groups of people, one with a beef against the cops and another with light fingers – it was one group of mainly young people. They didn't attack each other, rape people, mug people - I was able to walk freely amongst them in my shirt and slacks straight from work; lots of people who were obviously not rioting walked with the crowd in daylight – many have said the mood turned later on but actually I stayed with it with a friend, who was also not dressed to fit in, until after midnight.

I understand things have been much nastier in other places; in Hackney at least, enough of the community were unafraid to go out and talk to the youth, even being supportive and sympathetic, to stop its total destruction.

Many were quick to say the rioting was not political – what did you think from what you saw?

When I went through Hackney on the bus the next morning, the damage visible told an interesting tale along with what I already know: Opticians with £100+ glasses, betting shops, estate agents, JD sports, Barclays, pawn shop/crack converters, electrical goods shop, M&S, a small police outpost and a Spar garage. On the other hand we know a local independent shop was thoroughly looted (the one we stopped being torched) and at least 5 cars were grilled.

The first list of targets was done by a mobile mob who left all other shops and buildings in between - very clearly targeting places with instant value goods, impersonal chain shops - or places they had a beef with. Then the second list of targets that are more obviously anti social happened mostly when the rioting had stagnated on Clarence road next to the Pembury estate. Choices were being made about what to hit and what not to. If we look at who rioted and how they rioted, we can find political aspects to all this, just not a political motivation.

Do you think those on the left have any useful role to play in relation to the riots?

Along with lots of other leftists I have been watching and engaging, and it has been worthwhile: and I have got a really useful idea of what the atmosphere was like - in Hackney at least – and that’s so, so important. I can’t imagine how differently people who only saw this on TV or from miles down the road feel. We have also been advising on police tactics without encouraging the rioting – it is far worse for the area, in my mind, that any kid gets sent down; dealing with someone who has done a stretch is far harder than finding a directionless rudeboy focus. We have also stopped some bad things, like friendly fire incidents with bricks, and I helped my friend put out a fire in the shop on Clarence Road – again, we didn’t get stopped, lots of the crowd ran in and helped; it was almost as if they were making up their minds. I'm terrified I'll be done for going into the shop though, I can’t imagine a judge believing I was putting out the fire whilst everyone else was pilfering the drinks.

What do you see as the main reasons people are rioting, the left at least is identifying racism as a major cause.

I feel quite strongly on this. It is not about race and it’s not about the shooting either. Those are only elements in an overall economic situation. Up and down the country a racial mix of youth have been taking advantage of the chaos - together. I saw this mix personally, but you can see it on the news and internet too. People are looting because they want things. That’s economic and social, that's not some kind of misguided protest at police racism.

In fact the whole narrative of police racism is useless here. You don't nick shoes n brews and run from the police cos you feel harassed by Stop and Search, and certainly not these kids - they're scallies, rudeboys, they get stopped cos they're the kind of kids who do naughty things - like they're doing now. They feel harassed certainly, but they also feel fully excluded from far more than polite treatment by the cops; otherwise their behaviour is inexplicable.

Things have moved on from the early 1990s in terms of policing, but also, things were never really primarily about race rather than poverty in many of the previous famous riots. The people at the bottom of the heap are there because they came to the UK as poor migrants and have been slotted into their new society at the same level at best, or even lower most of the time. This isn’t because all half-decent jobs bar ethnic minorities; look at the difference between Bangladeshi migrants and Indian migrants in terms of earnings and social position; is white English peoples’ racism so complex that they manage to exclude Banglas but allow Indians a foot on the ladder? Of course not.

Social outcomes are primarily set by economic background, your class. Of course that ties in with ethnic groups, but it is that way round. Not the other. Some ethnic communities are poor, their poverty leads to exclusion, which leads to a disregard for the law, which leads to police attention, which leads to grievances. Of course this is also true for completely native white communities too – indeed, poverty is generally shared in mixed race communities. A legion of liars will now come out of the woodwork to try and make this about race and policing, not capitalism. Ignore them and their false 'community' - they are the problem, not the solution.

I know that saying this is considered racist by a whole range of people on the left, in education, in community organisations, in the unions. Even people with a class analysis seem to be obsessed with racism being the core oppression in the UK. I can just see how badly attempting to express what I have just said to a colleague at my school would go.

"Racism man. It's so bad. That shit's like, gotta stop? You know you cross the road sometimes: feel guilty. Police - of course they're racist, especially the coconuts who are ashamed of their blackness (that's not racist cos its anti police and the police are racist see, so it's not). We need to have long hard talk about racism, lots of awareness training, more black role models, less England flags, more Carnival; we need to kill the racist inside us. The crime figures, unemployment figures, academic figures, homelessness stats - how can you look at them and not see how racist this country is? What do you mean, class is an easily more significant factor? You definitely need to go on course about this. I bet you don’t even like spicy food."

A lot of my parents’ generation take 'institutional racism' as a given, due to the recent history of colonialism for them and the experience of the early days of mass migration to this country. They see it as a huge issue, and are encouraged to do so by both the right and the left of every stripe, television and print media, historians and authors alike. Very few people think it is actually an easier issue than class, very few realise it is actually an easy excuse for the powers that be. We aren’t confronting the establishment with their racism, we’re letting their economic system off the hook. If they can say the riots are about racism, and they can racialise the obviously economic elements, they can muddy the water and keep public opinion divided and divisive. The right will be bolstered by indignant white people and the left will throw itself into
1) attacking the right,
2) more pointless race initiatives that actually stigmatise and divide our communities as opposed to uniting them.

What visibly unites the rioters is not race, but from up and down the country - dress code. The police see people like that and make the probably very accurate assumption about where that person is from and the kind of attitude they have - and they harass them, they stop them, they give them grief; cos they are think they are from a poor, dispossessed place both literally and psychologically - and are likelier to have committed some street crime.

Why am I not allowed to say that? That crime is linked to poverty? Are we not the left any more, and now have some kind of oppression - lead analysis of everything?

What about the argument that the riot is primarily caused by poor policing and in particular police harassment?

Police visibly target visible crimes, because not only are these easier to solve but they are under pressure from the public: the kind of person who writes to their local paper cannot see fraud and rape, they see street robbery and vandalism. This means police spend most of their time focussing on kids in sportswear; what I'm saying is that this isn't the police being massively prejudiced, its them going to where the kind of crimes they are told to deal with are.

Police harassment leads to a dislike of the police, but the explosion of disregard for the law over the last few days needs to be seen a broader phenomenon with many factors playing a role in creating the character of the riots. This is actually a far more rewarding way to look at things from a left perspective because it suggests that there are systemic problems that 'better policing' will never address.

The police are slammed again and again about the racism that must be endemic in the Force due to the figures for Stop and Search and the prison population; if they alone could do something about it, they would have. I think the truth is that demanding the figures change is just a game politicians play to complicate a straightforward class and poverty issue - that the geographic areas the prison population and kids who get regularly Stopped come from, are poor areas abandoned by the political class, with demands unmet by the economy.

To say whether we think the police unfairly target people of a certain age, race, or appearance is to pointlessly put ourselves in their shoes rather than focus on the bigger issue of why crime happens. I think the important thing about police harassment here is to understand that it exists as a concept in its own right – it has a life of its own.

What matters is that we accept people in many ethnic communities, areas, and age groups, discuss police harassment and are encouraged to do so by politicians and the race industry (all the dodgy think tanks, campaign groups, 'race advisers' etc.) and the ‘community leaders’ that rub shoulders with the race industry and MPs. This is convenient for the political class as it gets people into a proper tizzy over who is harassed and who is not, why they are harassed, who can be in the oppressed group, who has a legitimate grievance, who gets the funding for their project – etc.

Coming to this situation as someone who wants everyone to be in the same community organisations reveals just how clever the move to special interest groups by the last four governments has been. Until now it has kept a lid on things as our traditional support networks at work and at home have been destroyed along with our job and housing security. People will often yell ‘police harassment’ as a battle cry – the war is over our entire quality of life and sense of belonging.

What do you think will be the consequences after the riots

Well I can only speak about Hackney, where no one lost their home or died. But if the looting continues nightly and Primark and M&S close down forever, what of it? What will make us happy is a choice of jobs, homes, places to spend time with our friends - not a choice of groceries and underwear. Perhaps this will help more people see that. From the flames comes clarity. The obvious inability of the cops to gain control in the last week means that hopefully we won’t talk endlessly about better policing of poverty, but address this violence by looking at what the answer really is; a society where
1) we feel included, all of us, as many as possible, and
2) where what we want isn't behind glass.

Read more political analysis of riots


Britain, Edinburgh Anarchist Federation, In the ashes of a riot by T la PalliDate Wed, 10 Aug 2011 17:27:52 +0300

Last night, Tottenham was ablaze. Today, the media is as officialdom closes ranks to pin blame on a “criminal minority” and ignore the class anger boiling over acrossBritain. Already, with the dust barely settled, a narrative built on convenience rather than fact is being billed as truth. It is vital that this is challenged, and people remember what actually happened last night. ---- To begin with, I’m not going to get into the whole business of condemnation and blame. A riot is not a tactic, carefully thought out and influenced by political debate, but a phenomenon. No amount of carefully-worded calls for calm or “I understand the anger but…” weasel words will stop a similar situation from arising again. It is an explosion of anger, fear, frustration, helplessness, into destruction. To stand back and argue that it was the wrong approach is to step out-of-touch from events as the unfold in the real world. It happened, and in all likelihood it will happen again.

As to why, we know that the immediate catalyst was the shooting of Mark Duggan by police on Thursday night. Following from the news of his death, a number of people – reports vary from 120 to around 500 – gathered outside the local police station. They were demanding answers, asking for someone to come out and speak to them.

The Daily Mail reports that the catalyst for the trouble was a 16-year-old girl throwing something at police. They retaliated by attacking her with shields and batons. The crowd surged forward in anger as a result of this, and the ensuing clashes had soon enough become the full-scale riot that we all saw on television. Far from the police narrative of the vigil being “hijacked by mindless thugs,” it seems quite clear that the police had at least as much of a hand in starting the riot as anyone and that simmering class conflict did the rest.

But it would be simplistic to presume that the whole thing hangs on one death at the hands of police and one stone thrown by an angry youth.

As Dave Hill notes in the Guardian;

Tottenham forms the core of the borough of Haringey, where a fast-rising total of well over 10,000 people are claiming jobseeker’s allowance. In Tottenham itself, recent government figures showed there were 54 people chasing each registered employment vacancy. It would be wrong and unfair to damn the place as a slough of blight and turpitude, but the long, main Tottenham High Road provides few obvious outward signs of prosperity.

Worklessness and its associated subcultures are becoming more deeply ingrained, with Tottenham and neighbouring Edmonton recently failing in a bid to be made a economic enterprise zone and attempts to regenerate the White Hart Lane area threatened by the desire of wealthy Tottenham Hotspur Football Club to move elsewhere.

Despite a small fall in reported crime in the year to June 2011 compared with the previous 12 months, Haringey saw an increase in burglaries and an alarming rise in robberies against the person – up from 884 offences to 1,204.

Edmonton, which lies just across the borough border in Enfield, has become grimly associated with fatal stabbings of teenagers in recent years. Spending cuts have led to Haringey closing eight of 13 youth clubs with reductions in community police officer numbers soon to come: small sticking plasters that help stem the flow of blood in a city where violence against young people has long been rising ominously.

In such a climate, an event such as the shooting dead by police of 29 year-old father of four Mark Duggan on Thursday night is more likely to provide in some minds, especially young ones, a pretext, a rationale or an opportunity to jettison any respect for the law or regard for fellow citizens and let rip.

Of course, the liberal perspective on this says that such a “rationale” is wrong-headed. The police need only to “show that justice is being done” in order to restore calm. People “think they are overpoliced as criminals and underpoliced as victims,” and if we can show this as wrong then they will stick to “peaceful protest” as the outlet for their frustrations.

But the fact is that more and more people are having their illusions in social democracy shattered. On the sharp end of capitalism, they can see its reality. In ALARM’s words, “an economically bankrupt society, people being pushed out of their homes by gentrification, the NHS is being privatised, schools failing our children. Transport, food, shelter, electricity all utterly unaffordable. All of this is held in place by the murderous force of the Metropolitan police.”

This reality compounds a sense of alienation, frustration, and powerlessness. Politicians say what they need to when elections are coming, but none of them speak for working class and no matter how your vote is cast nothing ever changes. The left talk of fighting the cuts, but with an obsessive, insular focus on public sector unions and tactics such as A to B marches that continue to achieve nothing they have little relevance to those at the sharp end of austerity. Or of capitalism in general. This leaves a vacuum, within which the only options are despondency or violence – and it’s the mark of someone who’ll never have to face that choice to condemn someone for choosing the latter.

Then there’s the police. Since 1998, 333 people have died in police custody, without a single officer ever being convicted. Thugs like Delroy Smellie know they will never have to face justice. Cynthia Jarrett‘s death sparked the last Tottenham riots. Blair Peach, Jean-Charles de Menezes, Ian Tomlinson, and Smiley Culture are just some of the more high-profile deaths at police hands.

On the other side of the law, much lesser crimes by Charlie Gilmour, Francis Fernie et al have fallen foul of politically motivated sentencing. Even anti-fascist action warrants jail time. Not to mention that youths hanging out on the streets and football fans can tell you of police heavy-handedness just as readily as protesters. Ultimately, there is no shortage of resentment for the police, and once you learn what their true role within society is, it is hard to un-learn it.

Not that any of this will seep its way into the mainstream narrative, of course. There will be some acknowledgement of the underlying causes from more liberal commentators, but only in the name of understanding condemnation and an offer of social democratic illusions to placate the seething masses. Conservatives will go beyond the bounds of the absurd, accusing everyone who acknowledges anything beyond evil as a cause of masking up and joining in themselves. Stories of how “Twitter fuelled the riots” will continue to circulate, and the distinction of “peaceful citizens” and “criminal minority” will persist.

But this will not alter reality. It will not stem the rising tide of resentment and alienation across the working class. It will not stop the next riot from erupting when the right spark is created. When that happens, there will be a simple choice. Either we take the side of a working class in revolt or we take the side of the state.

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