Some news from our spontaneous campaign “Fight the dirty conditions” in support of the people in Moria and the occupied factory VIO.ME in Thessaloniki:
*** Thanks to many of you we have collected around 2.500 Euro!
*** The first load of soap is already on the way to Lesbos. We will give you an update once it arrives!
*** VIO.ME has still dificulties to produce on large scale because of the electricity shutdown. The small generators from friends are not enough and they are still in need of a big generator.
*** At the same time the situation in the Greek refugee camps is worsening. After the first Corona cases in the Ritsona camp and other places became public, an evacuation plan for the camps was leaked by the media. But all is still unclear.
*** Corona lockdown continues in Greece. And difficult times are coming up: rising unemployment, no tourism and the ongoing social destruction will transform the country once more in a crisis laboratory of austerity and privatisation. People are already organising mutual aid initiatives and preparing themselves for the coming confrontation. More about the self-organization in the articles on our homepage.
Please continue to support the campaign by donating money and telling your friends about it: All the important information is on this fresh video clip! (big thanks to Nadja Kurz)
Some news from our spontaneous campaign "Fight the dirty conditions" in support of the people in Moria and the occupied factory VIO.ME in Thessaloniki: *** Thanks to many of you we have collected around 2.500 Euro!*** The first load of soap is already on the way to Lesbos. We will give you an update once it arrives!*** VIO.ME has still dificulties to produce on large scale because of the electricity shutdown. The small generators from friends are not enough and they are still in need of a big generator.*** At the same time the situation in the Greek refugee camps is worsening. After the first Corona cases in the Ritsona camp and other places became public, an evacuation plan for the camps was leaked by the media. But all is still unclear.*** Corona lockdown continues in Greece. And difficult times are coming up: rising unemployment, no tourism and the ongoing social destruction will transform the country once more in a crisis laboratory of austerity and privatisation. People are already organising mutual aid initiatives and preparing themselves for the coming confrontation. More about the self-organization in the articles on our homepage.Please continue to support the campaign by donating money and telling your friends about it: All the important information is on this fresh video clip!stay tuned
Gepostet von Beyond Europe am Samstag, 18. April 2020
The reality of a threatening pandemic that has spread like a shadow over our cities has created a weird, unpleasant condition, a numbness and a suffocating feeling. The virus was born in the furnace of Wuhan, one of the engines of the Chinese capitalist miracle, an area where hot and humid climate meets the frenzied industrial production of raw materials and the over-concentration of a proletariat without future. The virus has no political color, but the environmental and political conditions that allowed its birth and rapid spread in the Chinese province and let it reach every corner of the globe most surely have. The thought that almighty capitalism, this totalising social phenomenon, is non-centralized, offers no consolation. A conspiracy theory suggesting that this virus fights on behalf of one side of the planetary war or that its purpose is to solve the constant demographic problem of overpopulation would offer a solution, that would somehow explain the situation. Fortunately, however, not all causal relations are based on how the state and capitalism operate, or at least they do not directly intersect with their core dimensions and strategic action.
The pandemic situation feels like an experience of a world-shaking event, whether or not that proves to be the case. Our eyes have been stretched by the uninterrupted reproduction of unprecedented images. And if China’s dystopian sci-fi was banned from our perception of reality as something exotic -as Ebola once was- the stacked coffins of neighbouring Italy, the empty streets of Western Europe and the drones looking down at us in downtown Athens, leave no room for misinterpretation. We have to go way back, in the heart of the era of extremes, of the short 20th century, to find an event that has so deeply entrenched the planet that it has anchored the present and future of humans. The absolute nature of these lines can be crushed in the wall of reality and of business-as-usual. Ηowever, at the moment, when they are written, the general feeling is this: we live something important that will change us and the world around us.
The virus was born in a world of systemic inequality and exclusion. Those who see the stars from the bottom of the barrel are incomparably most affected. Unemployed people, precarious workers, drug addicts, people incarcerated in prisons, psychiatric clinics and detention centres, face and will face the pandemic literally in terms of survival without having anything to expect from the state and the bosses. Prisons have already declared a high security state and refugees and migrants, who are being suffocated in detention centres such as Moria in Greece, are searching and finding ways to cope using their own forces. Τhe pre-existing or on-going financial hardship has a different effect on different people – some will receive wages without working, while others will not be paid at all. As the pandemic affects conditions of life at global level, openness and closedness, inclusion and exclusion, exception and norm, core elements of the state’s self-interested nature, determine who lives and how, today and tomorrow – they also indicate our political tasks.
Governance in the time of the coronavirus is pivoting on shifting the responsibility to the citizens, on prohibition and repression – it is no coincidence that, behind closed doors, the rulers compare the current condition with that of the Twin Towers attack – but also discuss how to control a situation that seems to escalate very rapidly and, as a result, seriously endangers the health of our fellow citizens.
Starting from the last point, I think we ought to focus on the particularity of the Coronavirus and the resulting crisis which leads states to take onerous, undemocratic, extraordinary measures, culminating in a curfew. This task requires maintaining a delicate balance and reflecting upon the state’s nature. Biopolitics and necropolitics, statisticalization and algorithmization, instrumentalization and constant expansion are elements of the state’s modus operandi and we all know that (?). The state’s point of view is that of public health, which emphasises health policy, by connecting politics and medicine, through quantification and measurability. Many of the measures taken today to control the pandemic could remain active, expand or return slightly modified after the end of it. However it is not wise at the moment to only identify sinister motives behind the adoption of these measures. With numerous examples around us, it seems more appropriate to fully realize that the way in which the state manages this situation is narrow, rigidly set up and does not include any planning about what happens next. In any case, the state doesn’t need much incentive to manage our lives on our behalf, or expand its authority as much as possible; it is simply its role.
Returning to the current perspectives adopted by various governments around the word, we cannot let the deliberate and strategic choice of over-emphasizing on individual responsibility go unnoticed. “Individual responsibility”, “citizens who need to be disciplined”, “the unscrupulous, on account of whom we all have to pay the price” have become a well-written and contagious mantra that comes from above to penetrate our minds, here in the bottom – not accidentally reminiscent of the quite memorable “we ate them together” [a phrase that Theodorοs Pagalos, Pasok’s Member of Parliament said back in the days of memorandums to justify the austerity measures]. The government’s attempt to refuse any responsibility is mediated by blaming the rogue Greeks, who do not protect themselves and the community as a whole. Media help create an atmosphere and pave the way for new, stricter bans. Individual responsibility for public health issues is presented as obvious and as something we must take seriously – and as far as the lived experience of these days shows, the solution of “We Stay Home” has become an act. However, it becomes outrageous that this solution has been raised into an emblematic motto of a government that, beyond bans, has taken no other measures to curb the pandemic: this government hasn’t proceeded with the thousands of hirings it announced, it doesn’t provide the necessary protective working conditions to health care workers, it doesn’t proceed with the requisition of private clinics, it doesn’t protect workers in the workplace.
There is a confusion around individual responsibility and self-restraint, a confusion that has endured in our groups for decades, it has a political and anthropological context and creates complications. Regardless of whether the state policy surrounding the coronavirus crisis consists of bans and repression, self-restraint and a sense of responsibility for us and those around us must be non-negotiable. Our political proposal and outlook is not a general anti-authoritarianism and anti-conformism, but the building of communities based on freedom and solidarity, communities with deep roots and understanding of boundaries.
At the moment, the general consensus is one of a population that expects to be “managed” even more, more effectively, with a firm hand and determination. This feeling is grounded, but we must evaluate it, without paralyzing in the face of new facts, and given that for many the main characteristic of the last decade is a state of fear, a feeling of constant struggle to keep our heads out of the water and whenever we find something to catch, it disappears magically, alas, and we sink deeper.
For many, the state seems to be today the buoy that will finally endure, so they hastily grab it.
It goes without saying that the media blitzkrieg that paints images of strategists of the future for our – in reality – helpless leaders assists to that, but what also helps is our anthropological aversion to boundaries, which creates insecurity and psychologicaldistance between us. Let’s not despair though! The alignment behind the state authority is not universal, and is also characterized by qualities and tensions that we are interested in analyzing and interfering with, such as questioning the capitalist approaches to the management of public goods, re-evaluating entire areas of social activity, the image of the subject in relation to themselves and the community.
On the other hand, the conditions of the pandemic encourage a sense of humanity. It reminds us of our vulnerability and mortality but also of the futility of striving for total sovereignty over the natural environment. It shows us how much we need each other, how difficult it is to survive on our own – let alone live a life that is worth living. So let’s not rush to judge the applause from the balconies, let’s not underestimate the need for symbolic practices that offer relief to the subjects and allow for some emotional connection [in the UK many people went in balconies to applaud health workers, a symbolic trend that was started by the wife of the prime minister and which many saw as hypocritical]. Rather, let’s approach this moment of realising our vulnaribility and mortality as an opportunity to devise a generous repertoire of solidarity movements, with overwhelmingly different ethics, character and form than those underpinning public and private sectors policies. It is always a bet for us to create and maintain an area between the state and the market, an area that cannot be fully controlled by them. Under these conditions, the bet is harder but also more critical.
At the risk of bitterly regretting this prediction, we reiterate that the coronavirus condition is a pivotal event that shakes the pillars of today’s world, today’s status quo, and possibly determines part of tomorrow’s agenda. To begin with, the spread of the virus around the world is following the frenzied course of neoliberal globalization. The way our world is interconnected, coupled with the ecologically destructive prevalence of tourism, extreme consumerism and the neoliberal ruthless movement of goods, does not allow such phenomena to be mitigated locally or – even regionally -. At the same time, it turns out that the major issue of the pandemic can only be addressed at the nation-state level. If in dealing with the financial or refugee crisis the European Union once appeared as completely lacking the ability to make and enforce decisions as an entity, today it seems to accept that the pandemic cannot and should not be tackled collectively and co-ordinated by European primary and secondary legislation – it goes without saying that other international organizations such as the World Health Organization or the International Monetary Fund appear to be equally weak and irrelevant. Therefore, each state is taking its own path right now, for good or for bad, and we look forward to seeing how the EU decides to process all of this, especially on the fiscal level. However, the issues of localization, the decolonization of our imaginary from the unidirectional route of development, the radical critique of tourism and consumption, ideas that already concern us, may gain more room for public debate and may even be proposed by unexpected sides.
Following the above, the threatening tragedy forces Western people to rethink the relationship between the state, or at least its core, and the private sector. The blunders of Mitsotakis [PM which is very fond of privatization of public health] , Georgiades[ex-minister of health also very fond of privatization of public health] and others on the privatisation of part of the public health system today would be heard as if coming from another planet. They have not ceased to be neoliberal – and as elaborated elsewhere, neoliberalism is not primarily about the primacy of the free market economy over the state; however, the conviction that certain parts of state management must be upgraded and remain unaffected by free-market logics, may force them to modify their political strategies. And of course the same is true of Western countries such as France and Italy – quite exemplary here both the statements of the neoliberal icon, Macron, and his finance minister. Given the ideological investment in balanced budgets and general austerity, we look forward to seeing how potential bailouts of the European economy will be ideologically coloured, whether the neoliberal bureaucracy of Brussels will turn to Keynesianism for the benefit of the few, and what the reaction of the citizens who have been manipulated for so many years with technocratic and economist arguments will be.
All of the above is good, good to dig deep, good to analyze and interpret. But in all our conversations, in our technology-mediated assemblies and conferences, what we are constantly coming back to is “what to do”, “how to operate politically in the midst of a storm”. And maybe at these times it is both politically and socially critical to stop over-analyzing and work like never before.
Before attempting to outline some ways of thinking and acting, on the practices we can adopt these days, I must make two points. The first is that people that say that we must “make peace with the fact that there are things we can do nothing about” and that “we must realize our lack of total omnipotence’’, are absolutely right. This statement concerns both a more anthropological, reflective level of our position on planet Earth and an awareness of the political boundaries within which we operate. The second note concerns the need for a good understanding of our strengths and weaknesses as individual and collective subjects, as collectives and organizations that place themselves in the anti-authoritarian spectrum. Even if we have surpassed ourselves as many times as we have even experienced the collective joy of surpassing the limits, it is nevertheless necessary to know in which fields we will be most effective, where we can direct our energy, what the scale at which we will be able to make tangible changes to the gloomy current reality is – and along the way let’s be pleasantly surprised once again.
If, as mentioned above, the condition of the pandemic does not bring the same blows to everyone, and if state management once again excludes the most vulnerable, then we have a thread ahead of us to follow. To create and frame solidarity groups and movements that will keep the most vulnerable parts of society on their feet. Whether at the elemental level of the apartment block and neighborhood in which we live, or focusing on the social centers and squats in which we participate, to invest and politicize a sense of humanity, to walk side by side in all this. Collection and distribution of essentials, sanitary material and money, help at home for those who have difficulty moving, provision of reliable information on protection issues, legal assistance and technology and communication advice are just some of the things we can do. Furthermore, these days we have our ears stretched out for voices from the adjacent apartments, for cries from the cells of Greek penitentiary, for the incarcerated in the psychiatric clinics but also for the people who are mentally struggling around us, for the refugees and the immigrants in the islands who may be confronted with the necropolitical dimension of the state but also for the refugees and immigrants of our neighborhoods who, we must be honest, do not have the same access to information, health or anything else!
Second task is to not stop speaking about the aspects of state administration that endanger human lives, instituting an emergency labour law, policing our health with helicopters and announcements – here let us take full advantage of our technological capabilities and collective knowledge of them. Firmly in touch with reality and with a balanced criticism, to think about what it means for a society to send a sms message to go for a walk, how and why the police are entrusted with safeguarding public health, to what extent politics is medicalized and medicine is politicized, what should be done to make it out of all this as a society and not turn into a terrifying episode of Black Mirror. Let’s not succumb to the temptation of conspiracy and disaster and let’s accept – in good faith and for saving time – that this set of measures is temporary. Even so, even if we step out of the test tube in time, the fact remains that we are experiencing situations that will leave a mark on our psyche, will register in our relationship with the state, will reshape our relationship with digital communication.
Let’s, on the other hand, be sharp and ready to deal with the devaluation of our lives, the deterioration of labour relations, the management of the economy in terms of a crisis. Let’s speak here and now and make it clear that we will not tolerate another “rescue [program]”! Let’s attack statistics, administrative procedures, bureaucracy. Society should not be crushed under the weight of numbers, indices and graphs. But let’s understand that this time we need to work, prepare, build structures and infrastructures upon which we can rely massively, openly and inclusively, politically, socially, symbolically.
Even if it sounds completely alien amid a ban on traffic, policing of cities and the necessity for self-restraint and protection, let’s not completely exclude the possibility of physical political action. In today’s conditions, what used to be for us a piece of cake, must become a weapon that we will use when there is no other choice, and always with caution and care, in order to not be alienated from society and reality. Therefore, let it not be completely excluded from our thinking, let it remain a capability to either enact practical solidarity movements, or to defend those who do not have a present or future, or – if needed – as an answer to smash the state’s arrogance.
From our friends in Europe we get the message that “we are staying home now, but afterwards we will launch our counterattack”, that “then we will settle our accounts” and we can only smile and be satisfied with the high morale for fight from our comrades. But in my opinion, in order to have the slightest chance of something like that happening in the near – and so distant – future, we have to rise to the occasion today. So that “we will fight afterwards” does not turn to another “from September incredible things will happen” [a common slogan that people from the Greek movement tend to say during the summer holidays], we must act today socially and politically, cohesively and purposefully. Say what we have to say and do what we have to do. This was always the case and it is also the case today. However weird everything seems.
Short videoclip by our comrades from Antiauthoritarian Movement on solidarity in times of corona
Gepostet von Αντιεξουσιαστική Κίνηση Αθήνας – Antiauthoritarian Movement am Dienstag, 21. April 2020
We share with you the article and podcast by Julia Lindblom on the latest amazon workers protest in New York. It was first published on arbetaren.se
Online giant Amazon continues to grow during the corona pandemic. Just some month ago, the company announced that they were hiring hundreds of thousands of new workers in the United States to meet increased demand during the corona crisis. Now they plan to employ another 75,000 people in the country. This is happening while protests are growing among the warehouse workers on the floor. Arbetaren interviewed Christian Smalls, 31, who organized a strike at Staten Island’s JFK8 warehouse for better security – and who was then fired by the company.
It is early morning in New York when Christian Smalls answers the call. It has only been some week since he was fired from Amazon after organizing a protest at his former workplace, at JFK8 on Staten Island, New York. A distribution center where around 5000 people currently are working.
Christian Smalls said that the company did not take adequate security measures in connection with the outbreak of the virus. Not least in New York, a city that has become the epicenter of the pandemic and where thousands of people have died as a consequence of Covid-19. In early March, the mayor proclaimed a state of emergency in the city of eight million people, and since then the streets have been deserted and empty. At the same time, the work is ongoing at Amazon’s distribution centers as usual.
Christian Smalls says he noted in early March that colleagues around him on the floor began to feel bad.
– Some of them were vomiting, some of them were dizzy, light-headed, tired… I knew something was wrong, so I tried to escalate it to my HR team, saying like‚ hey, something is wrong here, we should quarantine the building just to be precautious. We didn’t have any confirmed cases in the beginning of March. They were like business as usual, we’re following the CDC guidelines, there’s no concern we need to take action right now‘. I wasn’t really agreeing with it, but I was like trying to continue to fight behind the scenes.
Christian Smalls took a few days off and contacted the health authorities in New York. When he returned to work on March 24, he was met by a sick and exhausted colleague. She had bloodshot eyes and said that the day before she had gotten tested for Covid-19 and was now waiting for the test result.
– I told her to go home. It was nine in the morning, it was still early. She was my friend and listened to me and understood. She went home.
Christian Smalls outside the warehouse JFK8 on Staten Island.
Two hours later, at eleven o’clock in the morning, it was the usual time for a manager meeting. There, Christian Smalls was told that they had a first positive confirmed case of Covid-19 in the building.
In Queens, a similar situation had occurred at an Amazon warehouse just some weeks earlier. By then they had closed down the building and then professionally sanitized the premises. Christian Smalls expected the same thing to happen on Staten Island. But that was not the case.
– So I was expecting the same thing. I was expecting us to close down, send everybody home with pay and they call a professional crew to come to sanitize the building. That didn’t happen. Everybody was like business as usual, don’t tell the employees, we don’t want to cause a panic. That was the last time that I worked for Amazon.
Christian Smalls says he refused to give up. He went home, made more phone calls, tried to draw media attention. He contacted the authorities again but without results.
The next morning he returned to the building but went to the cafeteria instead.
– So I went back to the building every single day – Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday – and I sat in the cafeteria for 8 hours a day, trying to tell the employees the truth. I said hey, somebody was in here, that has been working around you guys, that tested positive. Let’s try to close the building down, let’s go to the general manager’s office.
– So every morning around at 9 o’clock in the morning, we gonna go to interrupt his meeting. I had a group of 10 people to go voice their concerns, including myself. And he get on a phone call and I guess he tried to call the Regionals or whoever is above to decide and try to close the building down – allegedly. But nothing happened.
Christian Smalls says that they repeatedly got the same type of evasive answer – ”it’s not a Site-Level-Decision”, ”I missed the Regionals” and ”we don’t have to close the building down, we’re following the guidelines”.
So I guess he was probing at me, what you guys plan on doing. I was like I don’t know but something has to be done. Christian Smalls
On Friday Smalls went to the general manager’s office alone and got into an intense argument with him.
– I told him we need to close this building down or we gonna have to do something. I brought up the Kentucky building. They closed down, because the government closed it down and they paid the people for the entire week, I believe, until April 1st. I said well, Kentucky closed down, why can’t we close down? We’re the same type of building and he basically told me that the government did it, that the employees didn’t protest. But I read in the article, that they protested. So I guess he was probing at me, what you guys plan on doing. I was like I don’t know but something has to be done.
Christian Smalls again had to read the guidelines that didn’t make any sense or mean anything to him. He left and began mobilizing for a walkout on Monday. This time the media started to call him up.
On Saturday he returned to the building and to the cafeteria. A manager came forward and took Christian Smalls aside. He said he would be put on paid quarantine because he came in contact with someone infected by Covid-19.
– I said, well yeah I’ve been tellin‘ you guys that all week. But not only did I get in contact with her, but my entire department. We all need to be quarantined – the entire building. She is a supervisor, she has to engage with people, she has to work hand in hand with people, she has to help people – we all need to be quarantined. Including the person I drive to work with. No, just you, nobody else, just you. So, just me, not even the person I drive to work with. Ok, no problem. I left. I knew something was wrong, something was obviously wrong! I was being targeted to be silenced. They obviously got tired of me.
On Monday at lunchtime, Christian Smalls organized the walkout.
– About 50 to 60 people that came out. Everything was planned. Down to the timing. I picked the day where it’s gonna be nice weather, 65 degrees Fahrenheit, so I knew everybody would like to eat lunch outside. I gave the world, what needed to be seen, it was the walk out. And people joined us right there on the spot, people were holding my signs up.
– They were talking to the press, the media, telling the truth about not being protected at work and that’s exactly what I wanted to happen. I wanted them to note they were not being protected. There’s no mask, these are not the right type of gloves. That’s what started the spark of revolution, because a lot of people all over the globe realized they’re in the same situation and this is very dangerous, this is life or death.
Two hours later, Christian Smalls got fired from the company over the phone. Amazon disputed that he was terminated because of his agitation or political involvement. A spokeswoman for the company, Kristen Kish, said that he got fired because he had returned to work to conduct the demonstration even though he was in the midst of a paid 14-day quarantine after coming into contact with someone at the facility who was sick.
– We terminated his employment for putting the health and safety of others at risk and violations of his terms of his employment, Kirsten Smalls said to New York Times.
Amazon also denies not having told employees at the warehouse of confirmed cases and has told Forbes magazine that the company asked anyone who was in close contact with the diagnosed staff member to self-quarantine for 14 days, with pay.
The strike got a lot of attention in American media. But also the fact that Christian Smalls got fired. New York Mayor Bill De Blasio announced at a press conference that he has asked the city’s human rights commissioner to investigate the case.
But Amazon also ended up in a media scandal. An internal meeting protocol leaked and Vice News revealed how top executives at Amazon discussed Smalls during a morning meeting.
”He is not smart, or articulate,” senior Amazon chief David Zapolsky wrote in the meeting chat about Christian Smalls. ”Let him be the most interesting part of the story, and if possible, let him become the face of the entire trade union and organizing movement.” Also present at the meeting was Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and CEO.
In a statement to VICE News, Zapolsky said his “comments were personal and emotional.”
“I was frustrated and upset that an Amazon employee would endanger the health and safety of other Amazonians by repeatedly returning to the premises after having been warned to quarantine himself”.
Christian Smalls was not surprised at how they expressed themselves in the internal meeting minutes.
How did you feel when you read the conversation?
– I don’t feel anything, because they didn’t do anything for me, my entire life! I don’t care about their opinion. It’s not about me – it never was. If they’re threatened by somebody who makes 25 dollars an hour and they have the richest man in the world in the room with them, that tells you that I was speaking the truth – is it really that serious to have a meeting with the CEO? That tells you right there that there is some truth to my story. There’s a lot of truth to my story. It’s intimidating them, it’s causing them to lose money. They‘re greedy, they’re all about the money, they don’t care about people.
– They even say that. We don’t worry about the employees, let’s just worry about Christian Smalls. That tells you right there, that they don’t give a damn about the people, sorry for my language, but they don’t care about people. If you work for Amazon, that tells you how little value you are to them. You just making them richer and richer, they don’t care if you bring this virus home to your families. They don’t care about you. They don’t care whether you live or die! You pass away, guess what they’re gonna do? They gonna hire 100 000 more people. People got to wake up. Walk out!
After your resignation, the mayor of New York told them to have the Commissioner for Human Rights investigate the case. Will they do this?
– Yeah, absolutely! They already started it. They sent them letters, they had to respond. It’s only a matter of time. Right now it’s kind of difficult. The courts are closed. Everybody’s quarantined. But they definitely have this as a top priority right now. They’re still working on it. They’re trying to examine it and it’s still investigated. I appreciate the mayor and all the Congress people, senators that stepped up to help investigate.
Do you think many employees are scared to stand up to Amazon?
– Absolutely. Yeah, that’s intimidation, it’ll stop everybody else because people would be like, oh, if you say something, you will get fired. So, there’s a lot of people. I’m getting e-mails every single day, all over the world. People that are telling me I wanna be anonymous, but here’s what’s going on, I’m afraid but here’s what’s going on. It’s sad but I have them all: Tokyo – Japan, Brazil, London, Colombia, you name it, I have spoken to somebody everywhere and it’s sad what is really going on. It’s not just America, it’s not just JFK8 in Staten Island, it’s all over the world, these buildings, all over.
– And my message to everybody is: No. 1 – you want to practise real social distancing, stop clicking the One-Click-Buy, stop ordering from them. If you’re an Amazon employee and you feel that you’re not safe: Take your power back! These people, that’s rich they’re not gonna pick a box, pack a box and send it out to the customer. You have the power. Take your power back, walk out! Stand up! Don’t be afraid.
How did it go when you started working on Amazon? Have you always worked as an assistant manager?
– I started off at the bottom. I started off making 12 dollars an hour. I got promoted up. I was a regular Tier 1 associate, a picker – we call them pickers. I got hired at the bottom, obviously I’m still at the bottom, but it doesn’t matter. I worked my way up into a supervisor position in less than a year, actually, in less than a year I got promoted up. I opened up three buildings for them: New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. In each building I spent over a year, almost two years.
Your colleague was expected to work while she waited for the results of the Covid-19 test. Shouldn’t she have been quarantined?
– They don’t put you on quarantine, you’re right, you’re absolutely right – they should put you on quarantine until you get the results back, but they don’t! You gotta actually come back to work. That’s the reason why I said their policy doesn’t make sense. How can you go and get the test – you don’t even get the test if you don’t show severe symptoms. So that means that you possibly may have it. I don’t wanna take that chance and let you come back to work. I’ll wait till you get your results back. That’s gonna take a couple of days. I’ve told Amazon many times that they need such policies but they haven’t done anything.
And when you worked there was one person who tested positive, while others claim that there were in fact ten cases?
– There are about 30 cases now. In that building.
Are you planning new actions?
– Well, me, personally, I have to continue with the press, with my team. What I’m planning to do long-term is to continue to help to support the unions across the nation. We have one common goal right now. To form a coalition against these corporations taking advantage of frontliners. That’s the goal right now, to take the power back from capitalism and make a good balance between the frontliner workers, so that never happens again. That’s my goal.
Now that you’ve been fired, how do you manage to support yourself?
– I just put up a “Gofundme” on my page – it’s not really for me, though, it’s for the people that are unpaid. I wanted to take care for my people first, that’s what I started it for. If you wanna support, you can donate to my “gofundme” on my Twitter page. It’s up there now. I decided to finally give in, because the people were trying to donate to me, since day one. I wasn’t accepting this, because it’s not about the money, it never was about the money. It’s about saving lives, but I got people that are suffering right now. People that haven’t been to work for over a month. So I want to take care of them and so I decided to take the donations. I contacted the person yesterday – very good people. They did it out of their kindness, out of their heart and I’m gonna to continue to help everybody else. That’s what we’re going to do with that money.
Are there many now, that don’t dare to go to work, that stay home without pay?
– Yeah, absolutely! You got 18 year old kids who don’t go to work. There are senior citizens, that have health conditions, that don’t go to work. You got people that are sick and can’t get a test – they don’t want to put their co-workers at jeopardy, they don’t go to work. So yeah, there’s a lot of people that don’t go to work. And I want to take care of them.
Have people taken their vacation early to stay home with pay?
– We don’t have any – it’s not going to work. I used all my vacation time, I used all my personal pay time. But if you haven’t been there long enough, you won’t have any. You don’t have enough. We don’t know how long we are going to be in this situation, it could be months.
Over the past two weeks, more employees have been fired after openly criticizing the company. Maren Costa and Emily Cunningham were both employees on the tech side of Amazon and worked as user experience designers. They criticized the company on Twitter for not taking the security risks of the warehouse workers seriously and allowed a call to circulate among the employees. Costa had worked for the company for 15 years and Cunningham for more than five years. Both were also active in the Amazon Employees for Climate Justice group.
A company spokeswoman has confirmed to The Guardian, that the two employees were fired for “repeatedly violating internal policies”, which prohibit employees from commenting publicly on its business without corporate justification and approval from executives.
Last week, Bashit Mohamed, a warehouse worker in Minnesota, was also fired after trying to organize employees for better security during the corona pandemic. Amazon has stated that Bashit Mohamed was fired due to inappropriate language and behavior.
Listen to the podcast ”Amazon: Resistance in times of pandemic” and interview with Christian Smalls:
Our friends from Kolektiv 115 in Prague just launched their mutual help campaign for tenants threatened by the crisis with this great video:
ROUŠKA DOMOV NEZACHRÁNÍ: SOLIDÁRNÍ KAMPAŇ[English version below] Kvůli krizi přišlo mnoho lidí o práci a nejsou teď schopni platit za bydlení. Vláda sice předložila návrh zákona, který má nájemníky ochránit, ten je ale děravý jak řešeto – mnohé nájemníky neochrání a uvrhne je do dluhové pasti. Zákon jen umožní o několik měsíců odložit splacení nájmů. Ti, kdo toho v nadcházejících měsících využijí, budou muset na podzim místo jednoho nájmu zaplatit každý měsíc dva. Absurdní, že jo? Zákon navíc neochrání ty, kdo mají smlouvu na dobu určitou a ta jim skončí. Pokud nemůžete platit za bydlení, tak se vás majitel muže klidně zbavit zákon nezákon.Nemůžeme připustit vlnu výpovědí a vystěhování na ulici! Je třeba umožnit dočasné neplacení nájemného všem, kdo na to z důvodu aktuální krize nemají nebo nebudou mít! Pronajímatele, které by ztráta ohrozila, ať podpoří stát.Tam, kde nepomůže stát, musí si lidé pomoct navzájem. Proto jsme se rozhodli spustit solidární kampaň "Rouška domov nezachrání". Pokud jste se kvůli pandemii ocitl/a v těžké situaci, v níž vám hrozí, že přijdete o bydlení, a úřady vám nejsou schopny pomoct (a nebo víte o někom takovém ve svém okolí), zavolejte nebo nám napište: Telefon: +420 773 159 397 Mail: email@example.comNaší zbraní je solidarita!#COVID19 #VícNežRoušky★★★[English version]FACE MASKS WON'T PROTECT YOUR HOUSING: SOLIDARITY CAMPAIGNMany people have lost their job because of the crisis and cannot pay for their housing. The government has presented a law which is supposed to protect tenants, but it has many shortcomings: many people won't be protected and risk falling into debts. The law would only allow to postpone rent payments, but those who will use that possibility in the next months will have to play twice as much in rent during the autumn. Absurd, isn't it? Moreover, the law doesn't protect people whose rent contract ends. If they can't pay for housing, the owner can easily get rid of them despite that law. We can't accept a new wave of evictions! It's necessary to allow a temporary halt to rent payments for all those suffering from the present crisis. And let the state support owners whose subsistence depends on rent payments. When the state doesn't help, people have to step up and help each other. That's why we're launching a solidarity campaign called 'Face masks won't protect your housing'. If you're in a tough spot because of the pandemic and you risk losing your housing, with the authorities unable to help you, or if you know about such people around you, let us know! Phone: +420 773 159 397 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Solidarity is our weapon! #COVID19
Gepostet von Kolektiv 115 am Dienstag, 21. April 2020
Many people have lost their job because of the crisis and cannot pay for their housing. The government has presented a law which is supposed to protect tenants, but it has many shortcomings: many people won’t be protected and risk falling into debts. The law would only allow to postpone rent payments, but those who will use that possibility in the next months will have to play twice as much in rent during the autumn. Absurd, isn’t it? Moreover, the law doesn’t protect people whose rent contract ends. If they can’t pay for housing, the owner can easily get rid of them despite that law.
We can’t accept a new wave of evictions! It’s necessary to allow a temporary halt to rent payments for all those suffering from the present crisis. And let the state support owners whose subsistence depends on rent payments.
When the state doesn’t help, people have to step up and help each other. That’s why we’re launching a solidarity campaign called ‘Face masks won’t protect your housing’. If you’re in a tough spot because of the pandemic and you risk losing your housing, with the authorities unable to help you, or if you know about such people around you, let us know!
Phone: +420 773 159 397
Solidarity is our weapon!
Around the world, the sudden lockdown to limit the pandemic’s spread is leading to an abrupt economic slowdown. With cash handouts as the only way to avoid starvation and social unrest, the topic of Universal Basic Income is back on the table. Here is why it is (not) the solution.
by Jan Fürth
UBI as a bandaid or a permanent fix?
“In times of crisis, we are all socialists”, as social media memes liked to comment economic measures taken by governments facing the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. Italy, Canada, Germany and even the US are among those who have included cash handouts in their action plans, with many countries following suite. At the beginning of April, Spain made international headlines by announcing the introduction of a permanent Universal Basic Income (UBI), even if it’s not really universal. Finally, in his Easter message, Pope Francis came out in favour of the idea. What was a marginal idea only several weeks ago jumped to the forefront.
Without a question, various forms of (universal) basic income are necessary steps in this time of pandemic to allow people to stay in quarantine while preventing them from starving and losing their homes. Especially, as the quarantine is expected to be on and off, with waves of infection over the next months or years. However, UBI as a long-term instrument has several pitfalls that we must avoid if we don’t want it to become yet another aspect of neoliberalism. Indeed, there is a real risk that UBI could serve as an instrument to worsen the precarisation of labour and excessive consumerism if it is not accompanied by a radical redistribution of wealth and a reorganisation of economic relations.
Panem et circenses
While we should welcome the prospects of freeing people from the necessity to sell their labour or to be policed by social services in order to have a bare minimum to survive on, there are many ways in which UBI could be far from emancipatory. Indeed, we should be wary of a dystopian capitalist future in which the masses on a low UBI would be providing cheap and flexible labour for Uber, Wolt, Airbnb and all the other gig economy villains. With UBI ensuring the basic needs of workers, these corporations could have a powerful argument to scrap work contracts, the minimal wage and social security contributions.
In this sense, a low UBI could just be a perverse way to trap people in the Western consumerist lifestyle by giving them enough to feed corporations but not enough to discourage them from selling their labour to consume even more. As the foremost supporter of UBI in the USA and Democratic Party primaries’ candidate Andrew Yang writes on his website: UBI “actually fits seamlessly into capitalism. […] Markets need consumers to sell things to. UBI is capitalism with a floor that people cannot fall beneath.” While Yang does speak about social issues, this rhetoric betrays the fact that UBI could just be a little fix for the system without really challenging it. A modern version of Ancient Rome’s system of panem et circenses, bread and games for the masses.
Tax, seize, transform
Far from discarding UBI as a tool of neoliberal capitalism, we should see it as a two-edged sword that could be part of a series of immediate measures towards a major overhaul of socio-economic relations. Indeed, in the short-term, it can help society better absorb the shocks of the radical socio-economic changes necessary to avoid new social and environmental destruction, and in the long-term it can be part of a new economical system in which productivism and profit are not central tenets anymore. Accompanied by a radical redistribution of wealth and a reorganisation of economic relations, UBI can be a source of great personal and social emancipation.
If UBI does not go hand in hand with a radical redistribution of wealth, it risks being implemented to the detriment of other key sectors of social intervention such as infrastructures, housing, education, public transport and healthcare. Thus, it can only be introduced if it radically questions wealth redistribution. As a way to immediately fund it, addressing tax justice is crucial. According to the EU Parliament, up to a trillion euro is lost every year to tax avoidance and tax evasion! Yet, no action is taken as EU countries are pitted against each other, with some of them like Ireland having become financially dependent on its role as a tax haven.
While UBI can be financed by taxing the richest individuals and big corporations, we cannot stop short of greater changes and we must challenge the very structure of this system. Thus, UBI should be seen as a tool for radical reforms and a shift in the public and political discourse about labour, wealth, living conditions and the social structure, rather then the end goal, in efforts to stop the madness of the current system built on greed and destruction. With the current crisis, states have a historical chance to challenge the rule of capital and lay the bases for a social and environmental economy. Indeed, now and in the upcoming months, corporations on their knees can be cheaply bought off by the state, or simply nationalised, and transferred to the workers themselves. With UBI, the shocks of mass unemployment and of the transformation can be better absorbed.
In a context of necessary transformation, UBI is not about getting rid of work. It’s about valuing everyone’s existence while also redefining what is work, who does it and for how much. The post-pandemic cannot be a return to the so-called ‘business as usual’, but must be an acceleration of socio-economic changes. Escaping the grip of global finance through taking back control over public finances and moving away from a growth- and profit-driven economy, it is time to massively invest in socially owned green energy, infrastructures, healthcare, education, housing, agriculture and culture. This requires a lot of work and workers, but it must be done without setting a hierarchy between workers based on their market value.
Indeed, one of the injustices of capitalism is that it sets the standards for what is ‘work’ and how much one earns, with little interest for real value based on social usefulness. Thanks to its financial strength translated in political power, it has been increasingly socialising costs and privatising profit. This is especially obvious in the case of unpaid labour in the care sector (childcare, home care, domestic work), mostly performed by women. Despite its usefulness for capital itself, capitalists have largely escaped their responsibility to contribute to it. In efforts to unharness work from a profit-driven logic, UBI can put an end to this artificial separation between labour and chores, and finally remunerate those people who are often performing inestimable tasks outside of traditional working collectives.
Whether it’s being with children, taking care of the sick at home or just doing other forms of communal, reproductive work, everyone can be sure to at least a living wage through UBI, without bureaucratic hurdles and policing. As we see in these times of pandemic, and as we could see before, many people are eager to help each other without expecting a reward. Unfortunately, this is not seen as ‘work’ in our system, and only few people can afford to devote all their time and energy to serving the community. Instead, they are forced to enter into economic relations based on a logic of exploitation and financial return on investment. This has dire consequences for both society and environment, as human energy is more often than ever put in the service of personal greed and resource depletion.
UBI is not the solution, but if it comes along with a radical redistribution of wealth and deep changes in economic relations, then it can be a formidable tool on the path to rebuild a social economy from the bottom-up. With UBI covering basic needs, social investments restoring public services and systemic rules restraining or eliminating big capital, the way will be paved for new economic relations based on environmentally responsible and non-hierarchical principles. Limiting the possibility and the need to sacrifice human and non-human well-being in order for one to make a living can open up countless possibilities for creativity and emancipation.
I see the revival of rural communities freed from the need to compete on the global market. I see the sprouting of autonomous workplaces that can develop without the pressure of instant profit-making, with workers able to make decisions collectively without fearing to die of hunger, without the unfair competition of asocial corporations, without state repression and financial rapacity. I see individuals able to devote themselves to their artistic projects and to communal work without having to think about food, rent and the bills. I see slower societies in which no one is pushed aside and social uncertainty is sent to the dustbin of history. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.
Villeneuve-la-Garenne has been on fire since Sunday evening. The revolt erupted after a city resident, Mouldi, crashed into the door of an unmarked Passat police car, stopped at a traffic light, Saturday night around 10 p.m. on Verdun Avenue.
In the police car were four officers from the Anticriminality Brigade of the Hauts-de-Seine district, who had noticed Mouldi while he was driving without helmet on a motocross. When Mouldi arrived next to the vehicle to overtake it from the right by taking the cycle lane, one of the passengers, who nevertheless observed him in their rearview mirror and could not have missed his arrival at full speed, opened the door, throwing Mouldi onto a sidewalk pole. Note that the car was unmarked, so that Mouldi could not know that it was a police vehicle.
Direct witnesses present at the scene filmed the following minutes and posted the videos (two different angles) on Snapchat. We can see Mouldi screaming in pain, while a policeman bandages him a meter from the pole on which he landed. His motorcycle is a few meters further on the sidewalk, while three other police officers go back and forth between Mouldi and their vehicle. One of the witnesses will testify later that one of the officers was drunk, claiming that the door was opened voluntarily when the motorcycle arrived. Witnesses initially believe that Mouldi lost his leg. Treated in hospital, he suffered an open fracture of the left leg, but fortunately was not amputated.
The next morning, another video taken from the gas station adjacent to the accident site, shows police taking away the pole on which Mouldi was thrown the day before. The prosecution says that no internal affair’s investigation has been carried out so far, but the press claims that an investigation was opened against Mouldi for “urban rodeo” [illegal motorcycle race] and “endangering others”. The investigation is being conducted by the local police department, that are the direct colleagues of the police officers involved in the accident. An investigation is also conducted against the witnesses for “Contempt, threats and insults against persons holding public authority”.
Who cares if Mouldi had a criminal record? With this repressive state, tens of thousands of us have a criminal record, for various reasons. That will never justify police officers beating, maiming and killing even just one of us.
In the night from Sunday to Monday, it was not only the districts of Villeneuve-la-Garenne that erupted with anger, but also many districts of Nanterre, Suresnes, Aulnay-sous-Bois, Egly, Gennevilliers, Epinay, Grigny, Fontenay, Saint-Ouen, Villepinte, Neuilly-sur-Marne, Amiens Nord, Rueil-Malmaison, Noisiel, Mulhouse, Sevran, Evry, Strasbourg, La Courneuve, Neuilly-Sur-Marne, Chanteloup, Bordeaux, Toulouse: trash fires, fireworks and barricades on one side, facing tear gas, rubber bullets and grenades on the other. There were also violent arrests of independent journalists, a practice that has become common among police officers who are clearly to blame…
These outbursts of anger are not only the result of the Mouldi accident, but follow the constant controls, humiliations and violence suffered by residents of working-class neighborhoods, especially since the beginning of the curfew. This anger is political.
Six deaths at the hands of the French police in two weeks!!
We associate ourselves with the anger of the rioters, who are only reacting to this systemic and racist violence that floods our daily landscape, with social networks allowing witnesses to instantly broadcast footage of police actions in working-class neighbourhoods. These images will not do justice, but they at least allow us to establish the truth and to take a critical distance from the official version served by the perpetrators of these acts and the prosecutors who systematically organize their impunity.
Take part in the action week from 24 April to 1 May! We share with you the call for action by …ums Ganze! from Germany/Austria:
While in Germany measures such as the contact ban will be continued at least until May 4th, 40.000 people are living in excessively overcrowded camps on the Aegean islands, detained at the EU’s external borders even before they were able to reach the European mainland. The reason why they have to stay there is to allow the authorities to deport them back to Turkey, as part of the EU Erdogan deal, in case that their asylum applications will be rejected. This disparity clearly shows how, even with the pressing aim of “epidemiological protection”, a distinction is still being made between life that is worth protecting and life that is not worth protecting, ergo surplus life.
The group of more than 20.000 people crowded together in the hell of Moria on Lesbos have become a symbol for this disaster. The camp in a former military base is designed for a maximum of 3.000 occupants. Sanitary facilities, disinfectants and medical care are scarce, water is limited and the infrastructure is on the verge of collapse. In view of the danger of a corona outbreak, the camp is now becoming a death trap for those who fled from war and violence. Keeping distance or taking other precautions is simply impossible. Masked as a protective measure for the refugees, the Greek government has now sealed off the camp and de facto abolished the people’s freedom of movement, that had already been very restricted. True protection against the virus is now provided only by the residents themselves, who have organized themselves and are working together with local initiatives to inform the camp’s residents about the virus.
Meanwhile, Germany coldly demonstrates how to govern with maximum emphasis on national interests: the coronavirus parties continue to take place at workplaces such as logistics centres, the steel industry or in the poorly paid care sector. Now further loosening of lockdown measures, for example in the retail sector, have been granted. A few billionaires are profiting from the crisis, while most people do not know how to pay their rents with the deminished wages that the state is offering them. At the same time, the provisionally installed massive cuts in the rights for freedom of assembly and freedom of movement remain valid. Demonstrations are often prohibited even when they imposed strict protective measures on themselves. These restrictions also prevent the refugees here in Germany, many of whom are also still housed in camps, from defending themselves against the health-threatening living conditions inside those camps. Their protests, carried out with every precaution, are violently dissolved by the police. Even in prisons people remain locked up in very cramped spaces which has already led to several prison revolts, as in Italy for example.
This double standard is also evident in many other areas: The so called „German Airlift” brings back 100.000 stranded German tourists with numerous charter planes, but it is obviously not justifiable in the “pandemic” to rescue more than 50 unaccompanied youths from the hell of Moria. There is no mentioning of the old and the sick people in the camp who would be most affected by the disease in case of an outbreak and who would be dependent on the supply of intensive care beds and respirators.
Meanwhile, the first of the 40.000 harvest workers that the German Government has flown in from neighbouring eastern european countries has died of Covid-19. The solidarity that has been conjured up by Söder, Laschet, Merkel, von der Leyen and the likes, obviously has very narrow and very national boundaries.
After the financial crisis in 2008ff., the austerity policy under German dictation has destroyed the health sector in many European countries. Now, this policy is developing devastating consequences, as can be seen in the enormous death rate of Covid-19 cases in Italy with all its cruelty. In crisis-ridden Greece more than a third of hospitals have been closed and over 40% of funding cut. In order to prevent a collapse of the desolate Greek health sector, the right-wing government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis is now reacting with even more authoritarian border control measures than before. But already in early March – as a result of the escalation between Turkey and the EU – Mitsotakis suspended the right to asylum for a limited period of time and received 700 million euros financial support from the EU to further ward off refugees. Almost forgotten are the shots that were fired by the border police and which killed the refugee Muhammad al-Arab.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner EU is not only counting on external border control and protection against the pandemic for selected individuals only. European policy and national interests also reach out to one another. The debate on the so-called Corona Bonds shows this clearly. Once again, the winners of the crisis in 2008 – above all Germany – are putting all their energy into fighting common debts at EU level. It is in vogue to express concern about the fate of their poor European neighbors but at the same time relentlessly trying to secure their own competitiveness on the world market at the expense of exactly those neighbors. The German press, from FAZ to Bild, once again uses the stereotype of the lazy Italians.
One hardly dares to imagine the extent of the catastrophe that will occur as soon as the pandemic hits the Sahel zone, where Islamist groups are trying to use the crisis to their own advantage, or war-ravaged Syria, from which a large proportion of the refugees originate already. Still, humanitarian demands, as articulated by „Seebrücke“ or „Mission Lifeline“, are currently being ignored.
And yet, during the recent weeks, numerous people in Germany and Europe have clung to the fact that solidarity knows no borders and human rights are indivisible. From Sea Rescue and Refugee Councils to the organization „Seebrücke“ and artists: they have set sail, set signs, put up posters, submitted petitions and published appeals. They try to find out how to protest under the conditions of the pandemic, with physical distance and masks, with shoes and street chalk left behind as symbols, with protest online and offline. And they will continue until the camps are closed and the people are here. And so will we!
The closure and evacuation of all refugee camps! For a decentralized and humane housing for refugees!
Autonomy for the people living inside the camps and support of their self-organizing!
Free and unrestricted access to medical care, medical supplies and corona tests for all!
We are accusing the profiteers of isolation, exploitation and exclusion!
Therefore we are organizing campaigns in many cities in Europe from 24st of April to 1st of May. Keep your eyes open, take part in initiatives or do something in your city or village! There are many ways to become active in this protest, online but also on the streets, and still take care of each other. Naturally, do not endanger yourself or others. But it is also clear that we cannot stand idly by while the refugees on Lesbos and the other Greek islands are left to fall ill and die. The fight for a better society after the pandemic begins now!
EVACUATE MORIA – SHUT DOWN CAPITALISM!
…umsGanze!-Bündnis, part of Beyond Europe, Antiauthoritarian Platform Against Capitalism, April 2020
Banner drop action by Antiauthoritarian Movement Thessaloniki
It was not a coincidence that we chose the building at Nikis Av. 39 in Thessaloniki to hang this banner. We are political emotionally attached to it. It was the home of a few of us, till it was evacuated -simultaneously with two other squats- from the cops of the leftist Syriza government at the 2nd July 2016. The common ground of these three squats was the fact that refugees were living inside. Syriza prepared the ground for the rightwing
neoliberals of New Democracy to continue on the way to the totalitarian management and re-contextualisation of the migration issue from the side of the state. From the human living conditions, „we live together-we fight together“ and the mutual aid to the hells-on-earth of the detention camps.
What about now with the #stayathome dogma and the orders to keep the right safety distances? All these apply only to those that have a home and not the ones that the state chooses to make invisible. Homeless, refugees and prisoners are being abandoned completely and left to die during the pandemic. But also a lot of people that have a home right now, watch their housing situation becoming more and more fragile. We had felt the housing crisis deepen also before the pandemic. The rents were exploding due to gentrification, the extreme touristification and the short term rentals. The auctions of the first residence are also about to start. The real estate capital smells money and views our houses and neighbourhoods as investments with the blessings of the state, which can only be happy to see the creation of whole territories populated by individualised, flexible human consumers. The fact that our house remains empty after 3,5 years -along with thousands of buildings around the world- strips down the irrationality and violence of state and capital.
In the upcoming extreme poverty we ought to deepen the mutual aid political proposal that came up due to the pandemic. We will either move as a collective or the law of the jungle, hence the law of the market and the dehumanisation will dominate. We have to take roots in our neighboorhoods and from there start to imagine another world, where no one is being left behind.
EVACUATE MORIA – SHUT DOWN CAPITALISM
by Mina Khani, translated by Kian Zeytani. First published at German newspaper Analyse&Kritik on April 21st, 2020.
The Corona outbreak reached “Iranian soil” much earlier than the government in Iran admits. As alte as February 18th, right after the 41st anniversary of the revolution (February 11th) and shortly before the parliamentary elections (February 21st), the Iranian state confirmed via the Revolutionary Guards newspaper that Covid-19 had arrived in Iran. But weeks before, there had been reports of infected people spreading through the social networks.
Iran rapidly proved to be a country badly affected by the corona virus – even before the crisis became a global pandemic. Despite the delicate situation in China, the Iranian state did not stop air traffic to China until March 4th. Although the government under President Hassan Rouhani had announced that it would cancel flights to China, Mahan Air alone, the largest private airline in Iran, flew 16 times to and from China between late February and early March, according to BBC Farsi.
This provoked outrage among many people in Iran, most of whom attribute the continued air traffic to corruption in the state. The anger was heightened when Rouhani declared on 25 February that from 29 February “everything in the country will return to normal”. A few days later he had to admit that the virus had now reached all Iranian provinces.
Also the statements of the religious leader of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have also caused outrage in the social networks: “The virus is a biological attack on Iran”; “The virus was produced by the USA”, which is why “we do not accept any help from the USA”; “Corona is a small problem”, and it is not up to science to solve the problems of mankind, that is the task of the imams, Khamenei said in different speeches.
The misinformation and partly contradictory statements of the Iranian leadership about the seriousness of the Corona crisis weigh even more heavily for many people, as the virus has hit the country in the middle of an escalating economic and political crisis. The Otageasnafiran, the Iranian Chamber of Commerce, estimates that the corona crisis could cost up to 1.6 million people their jobs. In early April, the Iranian central bank applied for an emergency loan of five billion US dollars from the International Monetary Fund.
At a time when Corona was not yet a global pandemic, the Iranian state could not even prevent the rapid spread of the virus in the country; it even denied the fact that the virus spread to Iran early on. It was only on 24 March that Dr. Masoud Mardani, a member of the National Corona Committee, declared “that the corona epidemic very likely arrived in Iran much earlier than reported”.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the number of infected and dead is at least five times higher than the Iranian state admits. According to official figures, about 75,000 people were infected with the corona virus in mid-April, and more than 4,500 died of the disease. Even though the state is trying to control the flow of information by massively restricting the Internet and the freedom of the press, one thing is certain: a large part of the Iranian population does not believe the state’s statements. The distrust of the state is certainly reinforced by the lack of transparency about the extent of the Corona crisis, but this feeling is not new.
Old and new protests in Iran
In November 2019, the country had experienced massive protests against the government. The trigger was the tripling of gasoline prices. Shortly afterwards there were demonstrations in more than 100 cities. The state then switched off the Internet and brutally crushed the protests. When the Internet was switched on again a week later, the extent of the state’s power only became apparent. It is still unclear today how many people were murdered or imprisoned during this time. Amnesty International spoke of more than 300 deaths, according to the news agency Reuters even 1,500 people are said to have been killed.
In early January 2020, just a few weeks after the riots, the Revolutionary Guard shot down a passenger plane, killing 176 people. In this case too, the government denied having anything to do with it for three days. Many in Iran think that the only reason they finally admitted to shooting down the plane by mistake was because Canadian and European citizens were also killed.
Consequently Corona was a political and economic crisis in Iran from day one. The sanctions, which were again tightened by the USA, further intensified the effects of the crisis. It is remarkable that the Iranian state’s crisis of confidence is evident in this issue as well. In view of the massive corruption, many people who speak out in social networks think that even if the sanctions were lifted, the state would not let them benefit from this. Already in early 2018, when the nuclear agreement had not yet been cancelled, there had been mass protests against state corruption. During the harsh sanctions imposed by the US in the last two years, it has continued to rampage.
Now the government is demanding that people stay at home, but is taking no responsibility for the fact that the privatized health care system, inflation, the intensification of “international conflicts”, the privatization of factories and the lack of a welfare system are forcing people to leave their homes and work. In some hospitals there have already been protests by the staff because of the lack of protective clothing and the poor situation of the nursing staff, but so far these are isolated cases.
The situation is even worse in the overcrowded prisons. After reports of corona infections among prisoners and guards from several prisons, such as Evin Prison in Tehran, panic is spreading there and among the relatives of the 220,000 prisoners in Iran. The prisons are overcrowded and the sanitary facilities are often in poor condition. If the virus gets a foothold here, it can spread at lightning speed.
In at least eight prisons there have already been demonstrations, riots and – in some cases successful – escape attempts. The pressure is so great that up to 100,000 prisoners have been given temporary reprieve. However, Amnesty International also reported in early April that Iranian security forces had used live ammunition and tear gas in the prisons. At least 30 prisoners were murdered.
Who are the politicians and organizations that are constantly refusing to rescue people that are fleeing from war zones, from hunger and fear and in search for a better life all over the world? Who is to blame for the health- and life-threatening living conditions in refugee camps like Moria in Greece and elsewhere? It’s the system – but also the bosses who enforce it. Enough is enough! All over Germany and Austria posters popped up during the night, calling out the people responsible for this murderous situation.
EVACUATE MORIA. SHUT DOWN CAPITALISM – JOIN THE TWITTER-ACTION TODAY
On the twitteraccounts @umsganze and @beyondeurope we are documenting the action. Join us in addressing the actors of these policies directly: Tweet and retweet your message under the Hashtags #evacuatemoria and #leavenoonebehind and dont forget to add Von der Leyen (@vonderleyen), Merkel (@RegSprecher), Seehofer (@BMISprecher), Mitsotakis (@kmitsotakis) and Leggeri (@frontex) in your tweets. Lets make your demands heard: The closure and evacuation of all refugee camps! For a decentralized and humane housing for refugees! Autonomy for the people living inside the camps and support of their self-organizing! Free and unrestricted access to medical care, medical supplies and corona tests for all!
During our action week some of our friends decided to occupy hotels which during the corona pandemic are empty in order to show that there is plenty of room for everyone in Europe. Here is a small collection:
Öffnet die Hotels – Evcuate Moria – Shutdown Capitalism!Heute Montag haben Aktivist*innen ein Transparent auf dem Wiener Hotel Intercontinental befestigt, um darauf aufmerksam zu machen, dass während hunderte Hotels ungenutzt leer stehen, tausende Geflüchtete in Lagern auf den griechischen Inseln leben müssen. Die auch ansonsten schon äußerst prekäre Situation in diesen Lagern wird durch die drohende Gefahr eines Ausbruchs des Coronavirus noch massiv verschärft. Verantwortlich dafür ist die seit Jahren menschenverachtende Grenzpolitik der Europäischen Union und ihrer Mitgliedsstaaten, ganz wesentlich gestützt und vorangetrieben von der österreichischen Regierung um Bundeskanzler Kurz.„Während in Österreich Corona-Schutzmaßnahmen fortgesetzt werden, leben 40 000 Menschen in maßlos überbelegten Lagern auf den ägäischen Inseln, festgehalten an den EU-Außengrenzen noch bevor sie das europäische Festland erreichen konnten. Ihr Elend ist politisch verursacht und gewollt, es soll zur Abschreckung dienen“, sagt Carla Sedlak, Pressesprecherin der Plattform Radikale Linke. Dieses Missverhältnis zeigt deutlich, wie auch unter der Maßgabe des „Seuchenschutzes“ weiterhin zwischen schützenwertem und nicht-schützenswertem Leben unterschieden wird.Die mehr als 20 000 Menschen, die in der Hölle von Moria auf Lesbos zusammengedrängt ausharren müssen, sind zum Symbol dieser Katastrophe geworden. Das Lager ist höchstens auf 3 000 Bewohner*innen ausgelegt. Sanitäre Einrichtungen, Desinfektionsmittel und ärztliche Versorgung gibt es kaum, Wasser ist nur begrenzt vorhanden, die Infrastruktur steht kurz vor dem Kollaps. Angesichts der Gefahr eines Corona-Ausbruchs entwickelt sich das Lager nun für die vor Krieg und Gewalt Geflohenen zur Todesfalle. Abstand wahren oder das Einhalten anderer Vorsichtsmaßnahmen ist schlicht unmöglich. „Die AUA holt mit hohem finanziellen Aufwand Österreicher*innen aus aller Welt zurück, ansonsten werden möglichst billige Arbeitskräfte für das österreichische Pflegesystem und die Landwirtschaft eingeflogen. Die Aufnahme von Geflüchteten aus den höchst prekären Lagern an den europäischen Außengrenzen wird nicht einmal mehr öffentlich diskutiert“, zeigt sich Sedlak empört und fährt fort: „Die viel gepriesene „Solidarität“ endet also an der nationalen Grenze – was dazu führt, dass sie keine Solidarität im eigentlichen Sinne ist.“Die Aktivist*innen fordern die sofortige Evakuierung des Lagers Moria und die Aufnahme von schutzsuchenden Menschen in den leerstehenden Hotels. Des Weiteren fordern sie die Schließung aller Lager, die Freilassung aller Personen in Schubhaft und die Abschaffung des mörderischen EU-Grenzregimes. „Vor der Zukunft haben alle Angst. Sie wird durch Abschiebungen verstärkt, durch das Elend hinter dem Zaun, nicht durch offene Grenzen. Sie wird gemildert durch die Sicherheit: Was auch kommen mag – niemand wird zurückgelassen, keiner muss im Elend verrecken, wer er auch sei", so die Sprecherin der Plattform Radikale Linke abschließend.#LeaveNoOneBehind #WirHabenPlatz #EvacuateMoria
Gepostet von Plattform Radikale Linke am Montag, 27. April 2020
Open the hotels – Evacuate Moria – Shutdown Capitalism!
Today, Monday, activists* placed a banner on the Hotel Intercontinental in Vienna to draw attention to the fact that while hundreds of hotels stand unused, thousands of refugees have to live in camps on the Greek islands. The already extremely precarious situation in these camps is massively aggravated by the threat of an outbreak of the coronavirus. This is due to the border policy of the European Union and its Member States, which has been inhuman for years, and which is supported and driven forward by the Austrian Government headed by Chancellor Kurz.
The activists* demand the immediate evacuation of the camp Moria and the welcoming of people seeking protection in the empty hotels. They also demand the closure of all camps, the release of all persons in detention pending deportation and the abolition of the murderous EU border regime. “Everyone is afraid of the future. It is reinforced by deportations, by the misery behind the fence, not by open borders. It is mitigated by security: whatever comes – no one is left behind, no one has to die in misery, whoever they may be”, the spokeswoman of the Plattform Radikale Linke Platform Radical Left concluded.
EVACUATE MORIA – #leavenoonebehindDie Zeit der Bitten ist lange vorbei. Die Situation in den Refugee-Lagern auf den griechischen Inseln ist eine humanitäre Katastrophe. Heute haben wir im Rahmen unserer Aktionswoche EVACUATE MORIA – SHUT DOWN CAPITALISM das Ibis-Hotel am Rosenthaler Platz besetzt. Während für zehntausende Spargelstecher*innen eine Luftbrücke eingerichtet wird und hunderttausende Hotelzimmer leerstehen, werden die Menschen in Moria, in der EU, zum Sterben zurückgelassen. Das ist die mörderische Logik von Staat, Nation und Kapital. Wir fordern: Holt die Leute raus! Offene Grenzen, sichere Fluchtwege und ein bedingungsloses Bleiberecht für Alle. We´ve got space – #EvacuateMoria
Gepostet von TOP B3RLIN am Donnerstag, 30. April 2020
EVACUATE MORIA – #leavenoonebehind
The time for pleading is long gone. The situation in the refugee camps on the Greek islands is a humanitarian disaster. Today we have occupied the Ibis-Hotel at Rosenthaler Platz as part of our week of action EVACUATE MORIA – SHUT DOWN CAPITALISM. While an airlift is being set up for tens of thousands of asparagus cutters and hundreds of thousands of hotel rooms are empty, the people of Moria, in the EU, are left to die. This is the murderous logic of state, nation and capital. We demand: Get the people out! Open borders, safe escape routes and an unconditional right of residence for all.“
After the evacuation of all refugee camps people still need safe escape routes and a right of residence! Enough hotels are empty! Thats why we occupied an empty Ibis Hotel!
Support the call for strike against racism, for self-organization and a beautiful life for everyone by the germany-wide Day of Rage initiative!
Dear friends, dear comrades,
We migrant self-organisations call on our siblings to join us for a day of enragement and a general strike on 8 May 2020. We call on people with migration heritage, Jewish people, BIPoCs and all people in solidarity to strike with us.
Why the 08 May? The date is considered the day of liberation. But while the war and the Nazi dictatorship came to an end, the Nazi ideology and its representatives lived on and so racism and anti-semitism have a long tradition in Germany. After the end of the Second World War, Germany was at most only symbolically denazified. Former members and functionaries of the NSDAP and SA held political offices here and in Europe after 1945 or ran successful businesses.
Already in the 1950s, there were acts of racist violence. In 1979, Cuban contract workers Raúl García Paret and Delfin Guerra were killed in the GDR during resistance to racist violence. During this time, attacks on immigrants were poorly or not at all documented and so we do not know all the names of victims of racist violence. But the list of names of victims we know is long and apparently endless.
On Thursday, February 19, 2020, nine people with migration heritage were shot dead by a racist in Hanau, five others were injured.
Vili Viorel Păun
Said Nesar Hashemi
To this day, politics watches as our siblings, friends and our anti-fascist comrades are killed, even in the custody of state institutions, therefore we cannot rely on them. They do not protect us and at the very least since the NSU we know that in Germany, in all likelihood, protection of perpetrators continues.
We are not silent, we are not intimidated, we do not engage in racist discussions, we do not abandon the streets to Nazis. If Germany wants to continue to cosy up to Nazis, we will have no part in it!
Inspired by the Ramazan Avcı initiative, we take our fury and grief to the streets on May 8th. Get organized and call for a strike with us.
Day of Outrage, 08 May, Germany-wide
Call from Migrantifa Berlin
We cannot rely on the State – self-organize migrant protection and denazify all state apparatuses now!
We join our brothers* and sisters* in a call for all people with migration experience and inheritance, all Jewish persons, Sinti and Romani persons, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, and all those who feel solidarity with us, to come together and express our rage, our grief, our remembrance, and our resistance.
May 8th is commemorated as “Tag der Befreiung” to celebrate our liberation from National Socialism – this year in Berlin it will be a legal public holiday for the very first time. Although the war and the national socialist dictatorship ended in Europe, the fascist, racist, and antisemitic ideology of National Socialism lives on. Not four years following the end of the Second World War, voices from the political and social spheres loudly demanded a stop to denazification. So it is not at all surprising that shortly after 1945 thousands of former members and officials of the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers’ Party) took over leading positions in politics, the justice system, national security, and the economy.
Seventy-five years after “liberation” we see a Germany where, once again, fascists and racists march on the streets and commit murder, where they insert right-wing ideology in parliaments, schools, and the police force under the guise of democracy and freedom of expression. Germany has once again become a leading player on the world stage, and it will ensure that its “interests” are enforced in order to secure its “prosperity” – no matter what the cost.
The pogroms in Rostock-Lichtenhagen, the attempted murder in Mölln, the National Socialist Underground affair (NSU-Komplex), the murders of Oury Jalloh in Dessau, Burak Bektaş in Berlin, and, most recently, Arkan Hussein K. in Celle, the attacks in Halle and in Hanau, as well as the daily murders at the European borders – all these are just a few of the thousands manifestations of the fight between an imaginary “inside” and “outside.”
It is not a poison that is responsible for this, but a State that fuels and legitimizes a racist and nationalist ideology by prioritizing national interests and by propagating a value system of “useful versus useless.” And at the same time, it is also the State that protects right-wing perpetrators with its bloody hands: relatives are blamed, files get shredded, deals are struck with dictators, and the right of asylum readily suspended. Evidently, racism and right-wing extermination ideology is not a matter of a few mentally unstable individuals. It is a structural problem within mainstream society, one that is inherent to the logic of the bourgeois State and its institutions.
So we call out and say: Enough! We will not let ourselves be divided and we refuse to tolerate more racism, more fascism, and more murders in Germany! Let us take up the torch of our parents and grandparents and continue the struggle! Let us bring our voices together loudly and express our rage, our grief, and our resolve – whether on our balconies or on the street, from a place of anger or remembrance, for the right to come, to stay and to leave, online or offline. We will exercise our rights, we will make others uncomfortable, we will organize ourselves – beyond borders, for social justice, and in solidarity and remembrance for all those affected by right-wing and racist violence! There will be no final stroke!
From Moria to Hanau, no forgiveness, no forgetting!
In remembrance – #saytheirnames #hanauWarKeinEinzelfall
How to protest:
All information regarding time, location, printing materials, etc. will be published on our website and on our social media channels!
Solidarity with the strike of the harvest workers in Bornheim (near Bonn)! Ultra low wages, mouldy food and no protection from Covid-19. German asparagus and strawberries taste like workers exploitation!
On the ground report by Severin Marten, Alice Claire and John Malamatinas
Hundreds of syndicalists and activists expressed on Monday solidarity with the wild strike of the Asparagus harvest workers in #Bornheim between Bonn and Cologne in Germany.
Last Friday hundreds of seasonal workers stopped work on the asparagus and strawberry fields, whereupon the management of the company called the police to intimidate them. Like thousands of other seasonal workers, the harvest workers in Bornheim live and work under catastrophic conditions: The wages of the now insolvent Spargelhof Ritter were kept, the accommodation is under inhumane conditions – an imminent homelessness could be averted. The workers complain not only about mouldy food, unheated mass accommodation next to a sewage plant and a complete lack of protection against corona – but also about not being paid. They had only been paid 100 to 250 Euros for a month of hard work.
The company belongs (or belonged until a few months ago) to the Ritter family, but has been in insolvency administration since the beginning of March. Andreas Schulte-Beckhausen’s lawyer’s office is responsible, and according to media reports it already has a new investor for the large company on hand. In the main season, the farm is said to have employed up to 500 harvest workers in the years before.
The protest began on Monday at the accommodation containers and continued at the company farm. Tough negotiations were held all day. Around 3 pm the situation comes to a critical point. Suddenly it is said that the payment of outstanding wages should take place on the farm. A police chain awaits them there, and two security men are also there, who were very aggressive towards union organisers. They say that money should only be given to people who are on an ominous list. The assumption was obvious that the strategy of the insolvency administrator was to set the employees against each other, in which some paid 600 Euros and others only 50 or 70. The lawyer from the insolvency administration came out and sat in the car. He drove away. People were yelling that they want their money. The police protected the car and partly took action against the field workers. Outrage reigns.
Where the isolation of the migrant workers from the rest of the world usually leads to that this over-exploitation being largely ignored, the joint organisation with FAU Bonn was able to cause a nationwide sensation. It was a difficult day as FAU Bonn tweets: “A bone-crushing day draws to a close. Even if we cannot be satisfied with the result: that wages of a few hundred euros were paid at all is a panic reaction of the class enemy. Tomorrow is round 2.”
German agriculture is largely based on low-wage work performed by migrant workers. About 300,000 seasonal migrant workers come every year to Germany to work in the fields. Shifts of 14 hours, seven days a week for unhealthy heavy work are not uncommon. They work and live under catastrophic conditions and are mostly isolated from the outside world from the time they are picked up and taken to their accommodation in order to maintain the over-exploitation of migrant labour.
Now it is important to continue to maintain solidarity with the workers and not to be satisfied with the payment of small amounts of money.
Therefore, come to Bonn (Oxfordstraße 2) tomorrow at 10 a.m. in front of the seat of the insolvency administration, which is in charge of paying out the wages.
Germany you lousy piece of asparagus!
For more than two weeks, young people from Fridays For Future in Germany have been on hunger strike. From the very beginning the protesters in Germany tried to establish a contact to youngsters at the Moria refugee camp. At a joint press conference on 19th of May, young people from the Moria slum camp prepared and read out very moving statements. Two youngsters from the small German town of Landau. Under the name “Colored Rain” they called on people to join their protest. Sooner said than done: Another hunger strike by a person from Dresden followed. Also in Trier two other activists joined the action. On May 19, the hunger strike in Landau was ended by a protest march to the state capital Mainz. There their demands were symbolically handed over to the state government. Earlier, the activist from Dresden had already ended his action, while the hunger strike in Trier continues.
The youths criticized above all the inactivity of the politicians in meeting the demand to evacuate the camps. Even if the hungerstrike is now partly done, the exchange between the young comrades from Germany and Moria is still active. This is an important thing to strengthen each other and create a common understanding of a joined fight against the border regime.
The situation has not improved. The European migration regime is too deeply inhumane, Moria is an example of this. So let us fight together to counter the policy of exclusion and dehumanisation. The words of the young people of Moria urge us not to give up this fight!
The statements in text form:
Moria Refugee Camp, Greece, 19th of May
Usually people describe happiness as improvement, or they say if you want to have a happy life you should live in the moment, but when I look at my situation in the camp, I realize I am going backward instead of improving and I am experiencing a bad period of life, I don’t know, maybe this is my punishment because of I was born as an immigrant.
Hussain ali (16)
Moria refugee camp, Greece, 19th of May
I’m Hussain Ali. I’m 16 years old and I live in section where they keep minors. Coming from illegal ways is like you accepted a challenge of life or death. When we decided to come from illegal ways I didn’t know this but slowly slowly I knew that coming from this ways is like a suicide but there was no way for us. For being alive we used to accept this challenge and we started as I was a teenager it was hard to come but I thought that I can pass this bad way and I will reach to Europe and the problems will be finish.After a lots of hard days and many problems I reached to Greece and I thought I finished my problems but that was just a dream. Moria is a small Afghanistan.insecure, not safe and a place where we get mental problems and many other problems.
We are the most bitter story of the world.
Moria refugee camp, Greece, 19th of May
When it comes the name of Moria, immediately all the thoughts go through the terrible available situations inside the camp such as overcrowding problems, horrible sanitation, lack of basic needs like water, electricity fuel and…
Definitely these can be the most important and problematic issues that are visible at a glance but if we pay attention deeply there are more hidden and unsaid things, let’s think about the mother who crossed the dangerous borders to make her child’s future but lost her in the fire, nothing left but burnt bones.
The father who lost his innocent boy during the crazy fights and no one asked why? How?
Or Someone who came here to find peace and safety but is living in a more dangerous, unsafe and stressful place even more than the land he has come from.
The child whose toy was changed to a fake knife and trying to do, talk and shout just what he saw in the adults.
The girl who tried to learn, be independent and stand on her own feet but is even more vulnerable than ever that should rely on someone else to take one step out of his living area.
The people who are losing their mind, patient, tolerance due to living in this awful situation and dealing with so many challenges.
Moria refugee camp, Greece, 19th of May
My name is Milad, 21 years old from Afghanistan. Before entering the European soil, I had some imaginations from Europe, for example, European countries respect a lot to human rights, so that Europe will be the best place to have a safe and comfortable life, but unfortunately, Moria refugee camp proved that it’s nothing but an imagination, I realized that in the first days in Moria. And I’ve been in this hell for five months.
In Moria, at days I’m facing to the danger which is treating people’s lives all around the world, COVID-19, which is treating my life as well because in this camp, unlike the rest of the world which people have the ability to protect themselves from this virus by washing their hands frequently, keeping their distance from each other or even having sufficient and suitable medical equipments and supplies to be far from getting infected by this virus, we don’t have enough medical supplies, we don’t have enough water to wash our hands, even we can’t keep our distance between each other because of long lines like food lines, shower lines, toilet lines, market lines, Doctor lines or even ATM line, and the reason is that because it is an overcrowded camp. And at nights I’m facing to the danger of being injured or killed in huge fights between refugees, which keeps me awake for hours at nights. I have to be awake in nights when fights are happening because of my safety.
Europe was a strong big hope for me like a narrow bright light in the deepest terrifying darkness days of my life, but Moria proved that it was nothing but an imagination and took that light from me and took me to another deepest terrifying darkness days of my life again in another place.
Moria refugee camp, Greece, 19th of May
Moria, hell of migrants, it’s a good place for criminals, murderers, rapists, thieves and fighters, a place where people have to stay in lines for hours, a place where there is only few clinics for 19000 of migrants, a place where there is no school for thousands of youngsters who came for a brighter future, a place where there is no water to wash our hands, a place full of trash, a place where police has no control over fights in there own homeland.
Three days ago a fight happened between volunteers of Movement and Team humanity, it was a huge fight more than five people were stabbed and police did nothing, later that day at night there was another fight between two Hazara and Panjshiri nations and I am pretty sure more than fifteen people were stabbed that night, in that morning I witnessed cut fingers on the ground.
Is that the how safe Europe is? Is this the humanity they are always talking about?
Please leave no one behind
The wildcat strike of Romanian agricultural workers in Bornheim shows that struggles are possible even under conditions of racist super-exploitation. Originally published on akweb.de.
On Friday, 15th of May, some of the 250 seasonal workers of the Spargel Ritter company in Bornheim (North Rhine-Westphalia) stopped working in the asparagus and strawberry fields and informed the local press. Management called the police, but the intimidation attempt failed. The strike was covered widely by the media.
The workers are angry because they received ridiculously low wages of 100 to 250 euros instead of the promised 1,500 to 2,000 euros, and because they are housed under inhuman conditions in a container warehouse, idyllically located between a cemetery and a sewage plant on a vacant building site. As a result of the strike, they were immediately threatened with early dismissal and expulsion from their accommodation. Spargel Ritter has been bankrupt since March 1st, according to other sources even since January, and is now managed by the law firm Andreas Schulte-Beckhausen in nearby Bonn. In April, the firm hired both foreign seasonal workers and labourers from Germany without informing them that the company is in a state of insolvency. Obviously the insolvency administrator is using all means necessary to make the company attractive to new investors.
The protest continued on Monday, 18th of May with a rally organised by the anarcho-syndicalist trade union FAU at the accommodation containers, which was attended by about a hundred external supporters. Women workers in particular protested against their exploitation, making impressive and angry speeches. Afterwards, all of them demonstrated together in front of the company’s nearby yard, where some of the outstanding wages were alleged to be paid. Instead, the workers were expected by a chain of police officers and aggressive security guards. It quickly became clear that the strategy of the insolvency administrator was to divide the workers and set them against each other: Some were paid 600 euros, others only 50 or 70 euros. The security guards opposed the presence of a FAU lawyer during the payments, until the police enforced the lawyer’s presence. While the isolation of migrant workers usually means that this type of super-exploitation is largely ignored, the Bornheim case caused a nationwide sensation. Monday was a difficult day, as FAU Bonn tweeted: “A hard day is coming to an end. Even though we cannot be satisfied with the result: The fact that the wages of a few hundred euros were paid at all is a panic reaction of the class enemy. Tomorrow we will enter round 2.”
On Tuesday, the seasonal workers and solidarity activists met for another rally, this time in downtown Bonn, outside the insolvency administrator’s office. From there they went to the Romanian Consulate General, where a delegation of ten workers was received. The consul admonished the workers to be calm and considerate. They should return to their accommodation and wait – because the Consul is in contact with the Romanian Minister of Labour Violeta Alexandru, who is in Berlin at the invitation of the German Minister of Agriculture Julia Klöckner. According to the Consul her second stop after Berlin happened to be Bonn anyway, where she would meet with the Farmers’ Union.
On Wednesday, the minister actually showed up at the lodgings. After a long conversation with the Romanian workers – in which no trade union representatives were allowed – she announced that “everything was settled”: the insolvency administrator had assured her that she would push ahead with the payments, and her ministry would organize a free return to Romania or, in agreement with the German Farmers’ Union, the transfer to another company. After their departure, buses picked up groups of ten workers each for payment at an unknown location. The supporters together with the workers were able to make sure that a lawyer and interpreters were present for all payments, but they had to hand in their mobile phones first.
Since this dubious payment procedure could not be trusted, supporters followed the buses to “unknown places”, which a visibly disoriented police officer tried to prevent them from doing. It came to absurd wild-west-style chases across the strawberry fields, until the busses stopped at a field, where the payments were made in the burning sun. The lawyer made sure that the workers didn’t sign any termination agreements, and many gave him the power of attorney to check their wage claims in court. The FAU announced on Wednesday evening that the minimum target had been reached.
The fact that not all the workers from Romania and a few from Poland took part in the strike is due to the division caused by different contracts. Those workers with contracts running until September instead of only until June who were also promised higher wages saw their contracts of employment endangered by the strike and criticised the unrest that had arisen. In addition to the foreign seasonal workers, about 200 labourers from Germany have been hired since the end of April. As one worker from this group told us, they are called the “German team”, even though they come from all kinds of countries, but are resident in Germany. It is a motley crew – young people who have responded to the call to help “our” farmers to protect the harvest, and people who simply need the money urgently because of short-time work or unemployment. Unlike the workers from Eastern Europe, they are not employed on a piecework basis, but on an hourly wage, and receive a few cents more than the minimum wage of 9.35 euros, to mark the racist differentiation. Another reason for this is that the untrained workers from Germany would not have been able to work at the same pace as the Eastern European workers, who have been doing this kind of work for longer.
At work, the “German” and “Romanian” columns – these are the divisive terms used by the bosses and their foremen – are kept strictly separate when working in the strawberry tunnels, but they run into each other when the full crates are handed over. However, communication usually fails because of the language barrier. On Friday it was noticed that the “Romanian column” was missing, but it seems that word of the strike didn’t get around to the “German column” until Saturday. After the “German column” had continued working on Saturday and Monday, they were sent home for a day on Tuesday because according to the bosses the situation was too heated.
In the past weeks there have been increasing reports on the miserable working and living conditions of agricultural and slaughterhouse workers in Germany. The main reasons for this are the inhumane living conditions to which the workers are exposed and which are even more threatening in the current corona situation due to the lack of protection against infections. While Germany celebrates its low number of cases, it is not surprising that infections break out in places where people live and work under particularly precarious conditions. The refugee accommodation in Sankt Augustin, the slaughterhouse in Dissen and a deceased Romanian field worker in Baden-Württemberg are examples of these scandalous conditions.
The Romanian field workers were initially left on their own. Their outcry was heard by left-wing supporters – above all the FAU. And what about the IG BAU, the mainstream construction union? And the DGB federation? Members of parliament? No chance! With little money and few resources, FAU Bonn managed to support the workers in every step, despite the language barrier – a prime example of concrete solidarity.
This struggle shows above all that even the precarious and unorganised can defend themselves. This experience gives courage for the future. And it remains to be seen whether those who have now been placed on other farms through the Farmers’ Union will carry the strike virus to other fields. In Romania, all major daily newspapers have reported on the strike in Bornheim. This, too, could strengthen the self-confidence and entitlement of the seasonal workers.
In the Corona crisis, in view of the danger of infection, numerous social grievances have become the subject of discussion, which were already disastrous before Corona, but remained hidden for years. In a situation of crisis, people might initially deal with the burdens and troubles on an individual level. But in various sectors, micro-processes of resistance are currently taking place that can easily develop into collective struggles. In some cases these struggles come together, in others the divisions and hierarchies need to be broken through.
Alice Claire is an activist from Cologne and member of Beyond Europe.
Christian Frings is an activist, author and translator (of David Harvey and others).
John Malamatinas is a freelance journalist from Berlin, Brussels and Thessaloniki.
Re-post from Its’s Going Down.
The streets of Minneapolis exploded on Tuesday evening, following the horrific murder of a 46 year-old African-American man, George Floyd, at the hands of white police officers on Monday. In a now viral video, Floyd’s grizzly murder was captured on film, as a white police officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck while he lie on the ground for several minutes, as an angry crowd gathered and recorded the killing. In the video, Floyd can be heard saying that he was not able to breathe, echoing the words last spoken by Eric Garner, who was also killed by police in 2014 in a similar incident in New York.
"The more the social order loses credit, the more it arms its police." – The Invisible Committee pic.twitter.com/RcfBXnVycJ
— It's Going Down (@IGD_News) May 27, 2020
As CBS Minnesota wrote:
Overnight, video of the attempted arrest circulated on social media. Posted by Darnella Frazier on Facebook,the nine-minute video shows a white officer pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck behind a squad car. While lying facedown on the road, Floyd repeatedly groans and says he can’t breathe.
“He’s not even resisting arrest right now, bro,” one bystander tells the white officer and his partner, in the video. “You’re f—ing stopping his breathing right now, you think that’s cool?”
After about five minutes, Floyd stops moving and appears unconscious. People in the gathering crowd plead for the officers to check Floyd’s pulse. The officer on Floyd’s neck does not lift his knee until medical personnel arrive and carry him to an ambulance.
Directly following the video of Floyd’s murder going viral, all four of the officers that were involved in the killing were fired, a rarity in cases involving police deadly use of force. Multiple media outlets also reported that the FBI is now investigating the killing “for possible civil-rights violations.” According to Mapping Police Violence, police are charged with a crime following deadly encounters only 1.7% of the time. Data from Killed By Police, a website which tracks police killings, shows that at least 400 people have been killed by law enforcement in 2020, making for an average of around 3 people per day.
— SOLLY THE BANKBOY.® (@SollyBandz_) May 26, 2020
Despite expected heavy rains and the firing of the four officers, the demonstration on Tuesday evening brought out thousands of people onto the streets; the vast majority of them wearing masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Arial shots of the demonstration show it stretching across several city blocks. According to folks on the ground, actions happened throughout the city. At the intersection where George Floyd was murdered, there was a continuous gathering and street blockade. Marches on Tuesday took off from various points; collectively converging on the 3rd precinct. During one of these marches, anti-police graffiti slogans were extensively painted. Upon converging at the precinct, the massive crowd surrounded the building and the front window of the precinct was busted out and people began to write slogans on police cars and building walls, while others pelted other windows with eggs and projectiles. People then began attempting to break out more windows before being repelled by police tear gas from officers inside the building.
It should also be noted that during this time, other demonstrations were also taking place – outside of the home of Derek Chauvin, the now fired police officer at the center of the video showing the murder of George Floyd. Posts to social media show large crowds outside of the home of the former officer with one person commenting that several attempts at food delivery had been turned away, “So he’s in there hungry. Hope he’s fucking scared.” Chauvin lives in Oakdale, a suburb of St. Paul, “joining the estimated 94 percent (in 2014) of Minneapolis police officers who live outside the city,” according to one local news report.
Police cruiser smashed up outside MPD 3rd Precinct pic.twitter.com/6Slb4dqcT7
— Unicorn Riot (@UR_Ninja) May 27, 2020
Meanwhile, back at the 3rd precinct, during this chaos, various “peace police” attempted to contain the crowd, trying to get them to stop attacking police property, yet these cries fell almost completely on deaf ears. A group of police wearing gas masks were then successful in pushing the crowd away from the building and towards the police parking lot, where people began to tear open fences to vandalize and attack a variety of police vehicles; breaking out windows, mirrors, popping tires and spray painting slogans.
Battles raged for hours outside MPD's 3rd precinct. After the building was tagged, its windows smashed, and the parking lot gate broken open to allow people to sabotage their vehicles, police fired massive amounts of tear gas in a futile attempt to disperse the crowd. pic.twitter.com/9smcXenNE2
— The Minnesota Wild (@lets_go_wild) May 27, 2020
Enraged, police then began shooting massive amounts of projectile weapons and tear-gas into the parking lot, pushing people onto the adjacent street, and away from their vehicles. Unicorn Riot reported on the ground that these tear-gas canisters led to a series of small fires, which were quickly put out by demonstrators, who also threw the tear gas back towards the police. Officers also shot off large amounts of “marker rounds,” which left large blotches of paint behind when fired; marking an individual for possible later arrest.
Over the next several hours, running street battles took place between protesters and law enforcement, much of it within the parking lot of the nearby Target store. Rioters built barricades with shopping cars while police attacked the crowd indiscriminately. Those on the streets, many very young, acted bravely in the face of intense police violence, protecting each other, treating tear-gas, and throwing back smoke canisters. As the evening wore on, people also looted the nearby liquor store and smaller clashes continued to break out with police until the early morning of Wednesday.
A Minneapolis City Council member described the police violence on Twitter, writing:
This is a disgusting display. I’m here on the southside, helping people as I can with milk, water, and towels. So far, I have been unable to prevent the police from firing indiscriminately into the crowd. Moments ago, I held a towel to a teenage girls head as blood poured from it.
The uprising comes after several months of rising unemployment and massive State failure in the face of the coronavirus, which so-far has led to the deaths of over 100,000 people. People in the so-called US have also watched over the past month as both elite interests and neo-fascist groups have pushed jointly for the economy to “ReOpen,” which has only solidified poor and working-people, often of color, being placed onto the front lines of the pandemic. The fact that police have shown heavily armed far-Right protesters nothing but kid gloves for the past month at various “ReOpen” rallies was also not lost on anyone, and many on social media pointed out the vast difference in police response. Ironically, several far-Right “Boogaloo” protesters did try and intervene in support of the demonstrations in Minneapolis, only to be quickly shown the door.
Ongoing back and forth exchange of police munitions w fireworks and other projectiles from protesters. Crowds angry about George Floyd’s killing have had this area saturated and mostly shut down for quite a few hours now pic.twitter.com/o9JgODeWR0
— Unicorn Riot (@UR_Ninja) May 27, 2020
As the gates to the 3rd precinct's parking lot were being opened, many of the building's windows & doors were showing obvious signs of damage.
Graffiti in the second photo: "George Floyd! Remember it!"
— Unicorn Riot (@UR_Ninja) May 27, 2020
On Wednesday, May 27th, the City of Minneapolis began construction of a metal fence around the 3rd precinct, as new protests began in the streets.
The city of Minneapolis is literally BUILDING AN ENTIRE WALL around the 3rd Police Precinct on Minnehaha Avenue. They are more concerned about protecting a building than they are with the sanctity or Black life. #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd pic.twitter.com/xTcscHgH17
— untilfreedom (@untilfreedom) May 27, 2020
Solidarity statement from antiauthoritarians in Germany and Austria
After a white cop in Minneapolis, Minnesota suffocated the Afro-American George Floyd under the eyes of three of his colleagues, half the country is on fire. It was not the first racist murder by the US police, it was not even the first one this year and not the last since. It was just one too many.
The night after George’s murder, protests broke out in all kinds of cities across the United States and quickly increased. The protests were organized from within black communities in big US cities and quickly met with a huge wave of solidarity. After Trump had feigned sympathy and demanded an investigation into the murder, the mask has now fallen: Swinging his Bible, the autocrat declares the protests to be terror, against which he now wants to bring in the military, after the National Guard has already been mobilized in most states. Following the motto “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”, Trump wants to put a stop to the social uprisings. In the same breath, he wants to blame antifa directly for the protests, whom he has long since known to be communist and anarchist agitators. Fair enough! But while the truncheon orgies continue on the streets of America, Trump leads a campaign against those who stand in the way of the unchained state power.
The authoritarian Republican bloc in the US has long since mobilized all its media power to shift the discourse: Instead of racist cops and structural violence, FOX News discusses looting and terrorism. In trying to divide the protest into peaceful and violent, the Liberals, as so often, willingly let themselves be pulled in front of the Republicans’ trolley and toot the same horn: While armed sections of the Ku Klux Klan have opened the hunt under the eyes of the police, the Liberals on both sides of the Atlantic emphasize how important it is to remain non-violent. As if this is an option against police state and gangs of nazi thugs!
Trump had already made it clear in his presidential election campaign that he would not only stand for complete neo-liberal unleashing, but would also be prepared to use the strong state to beat this order into existence with all necessary force. The social distortions in a country where half the population considers health insurance to be Stalinist cannot be ignored. The COVID crisis has only exacerbated these differences: More than 20 million people lost their jobs and the foodbank queues stretch for miles. While it is the role of the state to ensure the normal accumulation of capital in times of peace and crisis, particularly exceptional situations such as this one show the other side of the coin: where integration fails, terror must be unleashed!
Meanwhile in Germany a whole sea of crocodile tears is being shed. From the conservative paper FAZ to the left-liberal Taz, from Christian Democrats to the Left party everyone agrees that one cannot handle justified anger in this way. Forgotten are the beatings of the G20 summit, the state’s involvement in Nazi networks, forgotten the evictions, deportations, deaths in police custody, etc… We write this declaration in solidarity one day after the 53rd anniversary of the murder of the student Benno Ohnesorg by the bullet of a German policeman.
It is not new that for the state no means are too drastic in the fight against insurrections to secure its monopoly on the use of violence. We send greetings of solidarity to our comrades and friends on the streets of American cities, who are showing practical solidarity against the state’s power!
From Germany & Austria to Minneapolis: Fight the Police! Solidarity beyond borders! Black lives matter! Abolish the system from below!
…ums Ganze! – 3rd June 2020
“When you talk about a revolution, most people think violence, without realizing that the real content of any kind of revolutionary thrust lies in the principles, in the goal that you’re striving for, not in the way you reach them.”
3 weeks ago, the African-American George Floyd was brutally murdered by police officers. Since then, an anti-racist wave of protest against police violence and White Supremacy has been spreading, which is being taken up internationally. In France, England, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Canada, but also in Germany, masses of racialized people and those standing in solidarity are taking to the streets in the middle of the pandemic. In the various countries where protests are taking place, different social situations exist from which the uprisings arise. White Left activism must show solidarity with the struggling organisations and movements of black people and people of color and recognise their spearhead role in the anti-racist struggle. We are communists from Germany who participated in the protests in Cologne and would like to present some analyses and theses on the current #BlackLivesMatter movement.
In the USA, black people make up 13% of the total population, but at the same time 33% of corona patients who need hospital treatment. They suffer from poverty-related pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes, much more frequently and receive much worse health care, as they are much more likely to be affected by poverty. Black people are more than twice as often victims of murder by police officers than white people. The murder of George Floyd was certainly not an isolated case, but the straw that broke the camel’s back. The massive rage that is currently erupting everywhere merely makes these brutal facts visible. The images of the riots and the looting in the USA are by no means frightening, as postulated by bourgeois media, but are an expression of the need to upset the murderous status quo. One could plunder for a lifetime; this would not replace what capitalism stole.
The movement has already had some success. 54% support in the US-population for the burning Minneapolis police department speaks for itself. Now the police department there is to be disbanded. Worldwide, the #BlackLivesMatter protests have caused colonial monuments glorifying slavery to be hit, as in Bristol and Brussels. These successes would not have been possible without the far-reaching mass militancy. No petition had achieved this before. In Germany no monument has been tackled so far. Some influential political figures externalize the problem: it is an American phenomenon. Former faction leader of the Christian Democrats, Friedrich Merz, claims that there is no latent racism in the police. The facts tell us something else: since 1990, at least 159 People of Colour and black people have died in police custody in Germany. The racist terror does not only come from the state, but also from racists and fascists who have killed at least 209 people since 1990. In Germany racism is present everywhere. The rulers do everything to make it ignoreable for the majority of society – to the murderous disadvantage of those targeted by racism.
The internationalization of the protests makes three things clear: racism and capitalism are inseparable. Racist plundering only works with social pacification and class contract. The bourgeois state plays a central role here: it secures the capitalist normalcy, and thus inevitably also the racism that supports it and shapes it. That is why it and its personnel are now faltering in the face of the internationalization of the uprisings that are continuing in many places. The uprisings, when they attack systemic racism, necessarily attack the whole system. Civil liberties will only be accepted by those in power if the social movements can be integrated into the status quo. And: Where understanding is expressed in another country about the protest, it is usually unpopular as soon as it is directed at one’s own ruling class and it does not remain peaceful. But the renewed protests in Atlanta also make it clear that the state can try to pacify its inmates with reforms and at the same time fight the uprising with the help of the military, but also gets massive headwind from the internationalization of the protests. Whether Trump, Bolsonaro, Macron or Johnson: They are currently getting a lot of fire under their asses.
The last social movements had a subjective factor and lived on spontaneity, which caused their rapid growth: whether it was the students of Fridays for Future, who will still feel the effects of the climate catastrophe during their lifetime, or the women’s movement, which attacks the systematic double exploitation of gendering under capitalism worldwide, or the BLM movement, which makes the daily murderous threat to black people visible. Social movements take up and attack the contradictions concretely: Whether racist police violence, patriarchal and sexual exploitation or the climate catastrophe. The fight for the whole can only be won by expanding the struggles. Where systematic oppression by domination is made a problem of individuals or certain groups, the so-called “progressive neoliberalism” beckons with quotas and ridiculous reforms like body cams to satisfy the state inmates. Revolutionary answers to the crisis do not speak of individual perpetrators and redistribution. With #DefundThePolice the police as an institution is questioned. Meanwhile, in Hamburg and Berlin it quickly became clear how the smallest spark of resistance against police officers is dealt with. We have to attack racist structures and institutions, as well as colonial continuities, where we live and struggle. In other words: disempowering capital and the perpetrators of violence and expropriating the rich.
#BlackLivesMatter feeds off the anti-colonial struggles of the Black Power movement. Black culture plays a central role here, which in turn comes from a resistant tradition and poses questions of social representation and participation radically from below, but at the same time has gained quite a high popularity. Without this popularity, the wave of protest would not have been able to internationalize so quickly. In the German public and the German left, black culture is marginalized, as is knowledge of the struggles of movements and organizations. Often black voices are overheard, or their critical sting is removed. Afro-German communists, like the resistance fighter Hilarius Gilges, who was brutally murdered by the Nazis in 1933 in Düsseldorf, or the partisan fighter Carlos Grevkey, who was also murdered by Nazis, are not well known in the anti-fascist German left. This statement is directed as a criticism of ourselves, as part of this movement.
Racism is treated as a problem and, across different political camps, as structural violence. Even Horst Seehofer (German minister of the interior) and others say: We have a racism problem. This could be seen as a discursive victory for interventions critical of racism. The problem is: the legitimate questions about representation of black people and PoC, as soon as they are taken up by the Congress, the EU Parliament and the Bundestag, lack the class standpoint. Intersectional research and theoretical approaches are very vulnerable to being turned against themselves, as they have already been appropriated by the bourgeois academic sphere. The realization that many social conflicts and injustices of our time can be interpreted on the basis of the categories race, class, gender, does not necessarily put them in conflict with the capital relation. In contrast to this is the notion of striving to overcome capitalist rule, which is expressed through class relations, racism and gender relations. The difference lies in the fact that in comparison to diversity-oriented and racism-critical approaches, capitalism as a whole is denounced. Racism and gender relations are by no means a side contradiction to class relations. They are historically closely connected and can only appear to be interwoven with each other. Thus this theory differs from bourgeois theories by two central features: It has a Marxist basis on which to argue. That is, it goes beyond the categorization of inequalities. Secondly, in contrast to academic intersectionality theory approaches, the theory of triple oppression in particular aims at the revolutionary overcoming of capitalism. Or, to use Bobby Seales (Black Panther Party) words:
“We are an organisation that represents black people and many white radicals relate to this and unterstand that the Black Panther Party is a righteous revolutionary front against this racist decadent, capitalistic system. Our organisation doesn’t have any white people as members. If a white man in a radical group wants to give me some guns, I’ll take them. I’m not going to refuse them because he’s white.”
If we as leftists want to make our contribution to the BLM movement, we must intervene practically and locally. For Cologne, a minimal catalogue of measures would be the abolition of the construct of “dangerous places” (a rationalization for stop and frisk), such as the Domplatte and Ebertplatz, an end to racist police controls, #JusticeforKrys (a young man shot and by a conservative politician), Herkesin Meydani – a memorial in Keupstraße (where nazi terrorists detonated a mailbomb), the private accommodation of fugitives and to dump the Kaiser Wilhelm statues in the Rhine. Nationwide: the disarmament of the police, the return of colonial looted goods, immediate debt relief and reparations payments for former German colonies, a reappraisal of the involvement of German shipbuilders and financial houses in the slave trade and the evacuation of all camps. Those who do not want to talk about colonialism should also keep quiet about capitalism.
After a Kurdish feminist rally in Vienna-Favoriten was attacked by Turkish fascists on Wednesday, hundreds of anti-fascists took to the streets against this attack on the following day. After yesterday’s demonstration the fascists escalated the situation again and attacked the EKH, an occupied house in Vienna, with a mob of about 200 to 300 people. Stones, bottles and incendiary devices flew on the squatted house, which is shared by left-wing migrant organisations and anarchist aligned squatters.
We have translated an article by Zeynep Arslan (@zeynemarslan) from the Austrian Mosaik Blog to give you a first overview and analysis of the situation. The antifascist demonstrations are organized under the motto Faşizme karşı omuz omuza! – Side by side against fascism! Try to find an answer on the streets!
The noise of the police helicopters could be heard late into the night yesterday. For a long time no peace and quiet returned to the streets of Vienna-Favoriten. It all began with a rally by a Kurdish women’s organisation based in the Ernst Kirchweger Haus (EKH). The participants wanted to point out the increasing number of feminicides in Turkey and Austria. They wanted to show what the effects of anti-women policies are, which can be seen, in the privatisation and destruction of women’s shelters in Salzburg for example.
Then the women were attacked by a group of fascist men. Within a very short period of time, around a hundred right-wing extremists appeared, and a large-scale police operation was launched. The women fled to the EKH and had to stay there for hours for security reasons.
It wasn’t the first attack in the district. Similar incidents occurred on Mayday on the fringes of a rally on Keplerplatz. And a pattern is emerging: the extreme right-wing group of young men seems to have no fear of the security forces, who were even supported by two police helicopters last night.
Two to three young people can turn into fifty to a hundred within minutes. They act as owners and guards of Favoriten and want to supervise their district. They forbid residents and visitors to events to consume alcohol during the Muslim month of fasting Ramadan. They try to keep Kurdish music and language out of the public. They also like to sic the police on Turkish-Kurdish participants of events – with the insinuation that they are followers of the PKK (Kurdish Workers Party). Self-confidently they accuse the police and the Austrian state of allowing a terrorist organisation to take over public space. They mobilise each other via their mobile phones and are organized in hierarchical roles.
The group’s world view is shaped by the political ideas of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. They position themselves as his defenders and do not shy away from making the wolf salute (comparable to the Hitler salute as a distinctive sign of Turkish fascists), which is forbidden in Austria, in the presence of the police.
How is it possible that young people who were born in Vienna and Austria internalized such an unreflected racist Turkish way of thinking and generalized hatred? Unfortunately the omnipresent discrimination in Austria favours the propaganda of the Turkish right-wing extremists. Young people who regularly experience exclusions according to the motto “You are and can be with us, but you will never be one of us” can never feel equal rights and equal treatment. This structural and institutional racism prevents a common, pluralistic understanding of democracy across cultural and national affiliations.
The male “us” narrative à la Erdoğan offers these young people an identity, even if it is constructed and artificial. The corresponding messages and war propaganda from Turkey reach them daily – and are received by them uncritically and without reflection. When they are confronted by others because of their attacks, they declare that despite their citizenship and perfect German they will remain foreigners forever and ever. Their disorientation provides fertile ground for right-wing extremist propaganda.
The young people born in Austria take on the megalomania of “Turkishness” across borders. Basic democratic rights obviously have no place in this. That’s why they attack marginalized groups from their supposed “own” cultural circle: Kurds, Alevis and women. For them, their rights are part of the “corrupt Christian strangeness” in which, in their opinion, they live. They seem to have found a feeling of belonging only in the group. In the group they feel strong – but even a rally against violence against women becomes unbearable for them and threatens their male power.
So we are dealing with an aggressive inferiority complex. It is rooted in a constructed legitimation of identity, that refers to Turkish history. It begins in the steppes of Central Asia, continues through the invasion of Anatolia, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and migration into the European diaspora. Various massacres, genocides and defamations in the course of the formation of the Turkish nation state a good hundred years ago are also part of this legitimation.
The Turkish state doctrine grants them the international privileged status of “Turk-Turkish-Sunni-Muslim Man”. To defend the leader and the fatherland, even far from Turkey, any use of force is justified. This can also be seen in violent anger against women.
Last night the self-proclaimed “guardians of Favouriten” were able to carry out their second action this year in front of the Austrian public. Prior to this, their attack was directed against the May Day rally on Keplerplatz. These developments can no longer be ignored. Behind them lies a political power structure that operates transnationally. The young men are only a pretense. The structures and ideologies behind them reach as far as Turkey. A trivialisation of the current incidents would be irresponsible towards the future.
What is needed is courageous action against all forms of racism, which goes hand in hand with sexism – no matter what corner it may come from. Each and every one of us must democratically engage and take responsibility for our common future. The world views that further stabilize a male-dominated ideology must be broken up. The patterns and motivation for racist and sexist violence and incitement to hatred are always the same: the perpetrators want to compensate for their own feelings of inferiority and the existential fear associated with it. After all, the young right-wing extremists are not as strong and courageous as they themselves believe.
Last night the desperation at Camp Moria on lesbos was discharged into a huge fire!
The unbearable situation in the refugee camp on the Greek island Lesbos completely escalated last night. In protest against the continuing poor care, the danger of Covid 19 and the prospect of Moria being turned into a closed camp by the erection of a fence, some camp residents decided to burn down large parts of the camp.
The police used batons and tear gas against the refugees, but could not control the situation. The fire department was attacked with stones to hinder their work.
Many of the camp inhabitants fled to the surrounding area or to the city of Mytilini. It is not clear how many people were injured and whether people fell victim to the flames. The further provisioning situation is not yet clear.
“Marx said that revolutions are the locomotive of world history. But perhaps things are very different. It may be that revolutions are the act by which the human race traveling in the train applies the emergency brake.” (Walter Benjamin)
The world is in flames and they continue to play with fire. Every day they dig up coal and burn it in their power plants, even though they know that this is the biggest source of CO2. Even though they know that in the next few years we are heading for tipping points that will make the climate catastrophe irreversible.
They, that is RWE AG, the energy-dependent industry, that is investors who are relying on everything going on as before. They are the federal and state government and the German-dominated European Commission. All those involved know what’s happening, and coal is still being produced.
Angela Merkel and other politicians looked at the appeals and mass demonstrations with a slight nod, but they weren’t really impressed. The coal phase-out should continue to come only when the last piece of coal has actually been burned. Because as someone once said: The modern state power is only a committee that manages the common business of the whole capitalist class. But we cannot expect anything else, because fossil capital provides the energy for the entire class. And the unity of property and the existing order is vehemently defended. As much as some may wish for a green capitalism: it will never be, because there is no decoupling of growth and resource consumption – these are just fantasies. The ruling class is the idealist, dreamer, unworldly.
It has broken its own announcements, self-commitments, etc., all by itself. All it has managed, since it has known about climate change, is to export environmental destruction itself. Even if coal is no longer burned in the Federal Republic and the industry is otherwise conserving resources here, environmental destruction will continue to be outsourced under capitalism if necessary. As always those people worldwide, who cannot afford to protect themselves, are most affected by capitalism and its environmental destruction.
Those responsible are the saboteurs of any effective climate policy and any humane coexistence, because the latter stand in the way of their business model and growth compulsion. They threaten to sue the states if their operating license is revoked. They threaten to leave workers in poverty and to worsen working conditions. They take away people’s time, our health and the resources we need to live. They will not stop their sabotage by themselves, they must be stopped. And if no one else can stop them, we must. If we stop their machines, we drive up the costs. Until it no longer pays off. We will stop the madness where it takes place. That is why we are joining the actions of Ende Gelände in the Rhineland from September 23 – 27, 2020.
Let us sabotage the saboteurs.
See you in the pit!
…ums Ganze! – September 2020
A Beyond Europe call to keep up the pressure and fight for solidarity.
After the fire that destroyed the misery camp of Moria, those who have nothing are not only left in the ashes of the monster of European foreign policy, but are now also being trampled on.
The refugees who did not manage to flee from the camp and escape to the city were not provided with blankets, tents and water, but with tear gas and the sticks of the Greek police. The cops tried with all their might not to let the refugees leave the camp, while what little they left behind remains was burned the next night. Trapped on the island’s streets around the camp, they were surrounded by riot police, left alone, without sufficient food, water and medical care. Helpers, NGOs and journalists were largely kept away, leaving the people defenceless against the heat of the day, the cold of the night, the arbitrariness and violence of the police and the attacks of local fascists.
For the verdict of the ultra-conservative Greek government under Nea Demokratia had already been passed. The guilty ones were those who had been locked up for years in the hell of Moria in disregard of human rights, and those who tried to alleviate the greatest suffering or to make the conditions public. Their guilt was investigated where there was nothing left to investigate, in the remains of Moria, already pushed together by bulldozers. But the Greek propaganda must be confirmed, on the one hand to distract from their own guilt and on the other hand to curb the biggest fear of the European Union. The fear that the fire that destroyed Moria will spread to the countless other places in the EU, based on the same inhuman policy. Whether in Lampedusa, Cyprus, Spain or along the entire Balkan route, the border regime has created places that are not far behind Moria. Where people are imprisoned without dignity, without opportunities and without any perspective. Moria is not the only powder keg that the EU has created in recent years.
While the people of Lesvos are suffering, the European politicians responsible for this catastrophe are extremely concerned. However, lip service is still paid without insight and concrete measures to help. Under the leadership of Germany there is a diligent haggling about responsibility and ridiculous contingents, legitimized with excuses and the search for common European solutions.
Despite their situation and the repression, many people are still demonstrating. They demand freedom and do not want to be resettled in a new closed camp under any circumstances. They are disappointed and tired of the promises of European politicians. Many understand all too well by now that they have become a plaything and are being used as a warning to break the idea of the Summer of Migration 2015, the idea of a Europe of human rights, whose ashes are carried away by the wind, sinking into the Mediterranean.
The Greek state is trying to blackmail the refugees into the new closed camps through lack of supplies, the continuing great danger of Covid-19, the threat that their asylum procedure will be suspended and permanent police arbitrariness and violence. How long their resistance can hold under this pressure is uncertain and therefore it is up to us to support their struggle and make it ours.
The refugees clearly show that they do not want to be numbers anymore and that dehumanization has come to an end. They want to fight for their rights, their future, their security and their lives. A fight for the foundation of our society that shows whether human rights are universal or remain a privilege. Because in this world of exploitation and competition, on the last islands of wealth, there is not enough space for those who seem superfluous.
Moria is a magnifying glass for the mistakes of the capitalist society we live in, and an example of how the smoking remnants will only be preserved by increasingly authoritarian measures of the state. A foul and dirty deal with despot Erdogan was made and inhumane camps were created with no concept at all. No wonder, since a bunch of European states are led by far right or right-populist governments, who hijack international decision making to impose their idea of society: authoritarian on the inside, locked up for the outside.
From 2015 till now, the EU did not even come close to find a common strategy to deal with refugees arriving at European borders. Those refugees, the people, who have to flee their own countries from war, ecological, social and economic catastrophes. The effects of global capitalist businesses, which make many parts of Europe rich.
Throughout Europe, there have been various solidarity actions in favour of evacuating the camps, not only in Moria, but on the whole external borders of the EU. But neither the pressure in the streets nor the public discourse was enough to make the rulers act effectively, which they simply do not want.
This Sunday on 20.09. people will again take to the streets in countless cities. We must not try to keep up the appearance of the European values, which were burnt in Moria, but to stand up for something completely different. A society that is based on solidarity and equality and that creates livable spaces everywhere without destroying the basis of life of the people.
After all, Solidarity is the key. Today, it is vital to stand up for solidarity and freedom of movement for everyone. These buzzwords used to be our own labels for assuring ourselves of our own radical views. In these times, solidarity and freedom of movement are still radical. They are ideas from which we can advance a radical critique of capitalism. The difference is that many more people are open to these demands, because after years and years of tens of thousands killed at borders such as in the Meditarranean, the critique of the status quo goes far beyond the usual suspects. When we take solidarity and freedom of movement to the streets today, after the disaster of Moria, it is not to be a small and hopefully radical voice in the discourse, but it is to change something politically: Evacuate now. End the camps. Fight the Fortress.
See you on the streets!
A political commentary.
2020 has hit us hard. At the beginning of the year the world was not in order, but hardly anybody expected a worldwide pandemic and in the consequence an economic-political crisis. There can be no “back to normality”. How could there be? Fast-moving capitalism is constantly reinventing itself, even or especially during the pandemic. At a very high price: the profound splits at the national and global level have come to an extreme. Where before there was a gap, now there seems to be an unbridgeable hole.
These phenomena become particularly clear in two examples, which are briefly summarized below. On September 9, the overcrowded camp for refugees in Moria on the Greek island of Lesbos was set on fire. For years, the refugees on the small island lived crowded together in the smallest of spaces under the most humiliating conditions. Again and again they succeeded in attracting attention and sympathy in the EU and in appealing to the remains of bourgeois morality, but the EU did not allow real humanism to prevail. What is this sick world in which people are driven to set fire to their own camp to draw attention to their fate? Barely 3 weeks later, on September 26, Amy Coney Barrett is nominated for the Supreme Cort in the White House. She is a legal hardliner against Obama’s health program and an anti-abortion campaigner. While crowds are banned all around the White House in Washington because of the pandemic, Trump and his allies celebrated a humid and cheerful Corona party in the White House. There were hugs, handshakes and nobody really wore masks here, which is why a large part of his administration including the president himself was infected with the corona virus.
While some partied in spite of pandemic circumstances and now enjoy the best medical care, thousands are stuck on the Greek islands and the mainland, cut off from medical care. Liberals and leftists around the world have understood that this has nothing to do with fairness. In Germany, thousands took to the streets in many cities and demanded the immediate evacuation of people and the welcoming of refugees into the communities. With #WirHabenPlatz (#WeHaveSpace), #LeaveNoOneBehind and #Seebrücke, an anti-racist movement has established itself in Germany and internationally over the past months and years. Well-connected at the local level, this movement has always ensured at the right time that the EU’s cruelties at its external borders are not forgotten, and has created structures that are organized in a non-parliamentary and grassroots democratic way and thus are able to catch up with large parts of the liberal political camps.
“The moral compass is off.” (Some German on some TV Show)
Practical action was then taken: Horst Seehofer, German Home Secretary, himself a Corona crisis manager and recently a sudden critic of racism, demanded the admission of a few hundred particularly vulnerable people and was able to present himself as a humanitarian on a European scale. While in 2018 the #Seebrücke had used his “anchor centers” (camps in which refugees would be held in isolation while their case was evaluated) as an opportunity to rebel against the federal government’s asylum policy, two years later he can stage himself as a liberal and humanist. The Corona Party in the White House can not only be described in terms of moral errors either: The President of the United States, who since the outbreak of the pandemic has had the death of thousands of Americans on his conscience because his policy denied them access to medical care and recommended the loyal state inmates to drink aquarium cleaners against the treacherous virus, manages to inspire compassion and to receive global wishes for recovery. That instead people wish him a severe course and a painful death is understandable, but the wrong answer. It’s the other way round: Neither Trump nor Seehofer will put an end to the dying of the nationally excluded and pauperized class. Rather, their openly fascist or supposedly philanthropic policies are an expression of growing nationalisms. As sovereigns of their nations, both defend the national borders and need the national identity on the inside to keep them separate from the outside.
All a question of morality?
These times are terrible. The fear of an infection with the deadly virus is growing, while questions of health care, freedom of movement and migration continue to intensify. What is hidden behind the morally loaded memes, talk shows and net politics are the questions that really matter: What can a society look like in which national borders do not decide on life and death and the socio-economic status of everyone decides on their health care? The prosperity of the global North cannot be redistributed so easily and different neo-fascist governments have unfortunately been able to establish themselves in recent years and enjoy great support from their loyalties. The moral compass of any society depends on the conditions under which it exists. If the Left wants more than share pics and 280 (Twitter-)signs to articulate anger, we must be the motor that changes the conditions for morality. For this, we need to determine at what time and in which fields the living conditions of the next years will be decided under the consequences of the Corona crisis. Or, to try it with Brecht: Food is the first thing, morals follow on.
By Jonas Wagner and Mia Wyborg
The authors are based in Germany and active in social struggles and the antifascist NIKA campaign. The campaign was founded in Germany in 2016 to fight the European right-wing movement in an organized way.
With the second anniversary of the gilets jaunes (GJ) uprising approaching, I virtually sat down with some participants to look back at a revolution that could have happened, the violent response of the police and the increasing restriction of civil liberties in France.
I virtually sat down to talk to a group of young activists from Montreuil (Paris suburb) who joined in the early hours of the movement, witnessing the moment when the regime almost fell in late 2018. They talked about the people in the gilets jaunes (GJ) movement, the uprising, the left’s hesitations, the struggle against the far right, and the political and police response. Here is an edited version of our conversation, divided by topics.
This conversation was part of research for an article by André Kapsas on police and judiciary repression during the GJ movement, which was published by Jacobin.
Youri* remembers that he was in the Drôme region in South-East France and that tags everywhere were calling for mobilisation on the 17th. “I didn’t know at all what it would look like, but there was a lot of agitation, so I decided to go to the local roundabout that was being occupied.” He remembers the GJ as a moment when „people started coming together, talking their daily problems and unwinding the thread, finding the source of their anger, of their living conditions. More and more, they were approaching the roots: the state, the system, capitalism. I’ll always remember my first twenty minutes on a roundabout with the GJ: they start talking about gas prices and twenty minutes later they’re already talking about the revolution, asking themselves whether that’s the solution. That really left a mark on me.”
Antoine was in Commercy, in the Meuse region, in the East, when it all started: “We organised some popular assemblies, and also organised the assembly of all GJ assemblies in January 2019. When it comes to forms of protest, they were much more radical, much more spontaneous. They were so strong as to launch a real insurrection, stronger than all the activist networks could ever dream of. When it comes to demands, there was no substitution, no either / or, no dropping of demands on the tax cancellation and purchasing power in favour of greater demands like the system’s abolition. There was rather an accumulation of demands. The core of the GJ movement were people concerned by purchasing power, having troubles making ends meet. Then people went further, with demands on democracy, on referendums. In Commercy, there were also municipal demands, demands to end tax evasion.
Where people revolutionary, anti-capitalist? There were definitely such discourses among the GJ, from people within the core. Ideas to end the capitalist system were welcome by many, but that wasn’t the main idea from Day One. You can’t really divide demands. Myself, I consider myself like a GJ, and I can say that in the movement, the idea that “end of the month, end of the world – same fight” was well understood.
GJ were often depicted like far-right rednecks listening to techno on parking lots while barbecuing, some kind of image of a stupid France, but this struggle against a tax went way further, it was about the organisation of power, the structure of society, about who should pay for the ecological transition. This tax was really about a punitive ecology, against poor people, a ‘class ecology’, and people saw through it. It’s not reactionary to fight against an injust tax.
So there was this consciousness, at least in Commercy, that purchasing power was the starting point, about the hard living conditions and the problem of making ends meet at the end of the month. That was never replaced by anything. There was also the RIP (Référendum d’initiative populaire – referendums that could be triggered by petition), that was more global, but otherwise it was mostly about those ‘bread and butter issues’.
At first, economic elites (the ‘patronat’, the bosses) were not really targeted. The GJ had another relationship to small bosses, entrepreneurs, craftsmen and craftswomen, who were often involved in the GJ, so they didn’t see the big bosses as a target at first; it was more the political elites, denounced as corrupted. Demands against the big bosses and corporations gradually came; not from outside, but rather from leftists who were inside the movement. It was a result of those meetings on roundabouts, not a manipulation, but rather a spontaneous development.
Louise: yes, it came after several months, when there was more targeting of the big bosses, and also a greater involvement with the strike movements, also with the ecological movement.
Antoine: there was a development going on, through intense exchanges, as people not only shared their experiences as activists, as trade unionists, when there was concrete solidarity, those were organic developments, not higher-level meetings. In Commercy, there was a huge defiance towards trade unions, towards any organisation, other flags, a great fear of manipulation and recuperation. Trade unionists were well received as participants, though.
This whole situation illustrated the growing distance between the left and popular classes during the last 30-40 years. There was a huge gap between people who didn’t speak the same language anymore. I remember the deep sadness of seeing a friend, a 50 year-old worker and trade unionist, who had taken part in all strikes in the last decades, feeling violated on the roundabout, because he was so starkly criticised. He felt that he had fought for this his whole life, yet he was being rejected because of his hat from the trade union. That changed after November-December, as there were many more meetings, during the whole year, and up to this date.
Louise: “I went to the second protest, on November 24th, because we had seen quite incredible images from the previous Saturday, and I wanted to see for myself and talk to people in order to form my own opinion. And not just listen to what the media were saying back then, talking about the Yellow Vests as middle-class, white, rather far-right. There were very few of us from the left-wing circles here in Montreuil to be mobilised.”
Next to Invalides we bumped into a group of about a hundred GJ who had just come in and didn’t know Paris. My friend and I had taken plans for this purpose and we passed them around. Some of them had megaphones and tried to lead, but they didn’t know where the Élysée (presidential palace) was, nor how to get there with all the cop blockages. We had yellow vests in our bags but we didn’t put them on at first, as we were still rather suspicious, but then we did put them on because it was easier to talk to protesters that way, otherwise they were suspicious.
What was the most surprising was the relationship to the police, in the first weeks, when people were calling on the police to join them. And also they were negotiating with the police. And the reaction of the police was also interesting. They were completely confused, they weren’t reacting the same way as during the Loi Travail protests (in 2016) or radical left protests. It was a whole other reaction, with police officers asking us ‘Please, mademoiselle, please, monsieur, stay on the curbwalk’, delicately picking us up, it was really surprising. The cops didn’t know what to do, they didn’t dare to repress. And the demonstrators were also astonishing, with some of them just standing in front of police trucks and stopping them with their hands.”
There were already barricades. People were just building barricades. I talked to many of them, they were at their first demonstration ever. They weren’t even hiding their faces. They just started to throw cobblestones, completely unmasked! Mostly those were 16 to 18 year-old teenagers and people over 60, together. I talked to many of them, some had voted for the Rassemblement National (far-right) and we met many people who supported the Union populaire républicaine (anti-EU, populist, conspirationist).
Youri: “I went back up to Paris soon before December 1st, as we knew that it would be very intense there. Some other activists and I, we were stunned by the lack of support in the capital and its suburbs, so we met up in Montreuil beforehand in order to start something in our neighbourhood. That’s where I met Julien and Louise, and we’ve been in the Montreuil gilets jaunes up to this date.”
“On December 1st, I don’t know if the police is so repressive yet, because they were completely overwhelmed. According to me, that was our window of opportunity, something even bigger could have happened. Because that’s the moment they also understood that it was an insurrection, and then they put everything in action to crush it. On December 8th, they were overwhelmed as well, but everything was in place, not just the police repression, but also their media machine. This is the week from the 1st to the 8th that needs to be studied to understand what happened.”
Julien: “The Triumphal Arch issue was the perfect pretext for politicians (on December 1st, protesters stormed this monument and took it, causing some material damages). The barricades looked problematic, but it wasn’t that bad, whereas there was a huge media campaign during the next week on the vandalism of the Triumphal Arch. They did a crazy agitation they whole week on the Arch, on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, on the tags, the damages. There was a great media operation by the government to delegitimate the GJ, present them as breakers. And it all served to legitimate the repression for the next week, with the deployment of the BAC (brigade anti-criminalité) and, later, the BRAV (brigade de répression de la violence).”
Louise: “What was really interesting among demonstrators was that they felt completely legitimate to demonstrate. The barricades, and the violence, it was all a fully natural violence, people didn’t ‘learn’ how to do that, they were just outraged that the police wouldn’t let them go to the presidential palace. They said, ‘We have the right to go so we’ll do everything to pass’. I was stunned to see people just throwing cobblestones, without being …, like, trained,” she says laughing. “For them, it was just so logical!”
Julien: “It was crazy, we could just go through the whole Paris as a wild demonstration, I had never seen that before, and never saw it again. It looked like the State had vanished, the street was ours, we thought we were hallucinating, that the cops would just come in at some point. But they didn’t. We went from the Champs-Élysées to Place de la République (5 km), like an hour and a half, without seeing a cop, or just a car coming and then escaping. It was a feverish atmosphere, but things didn’t really materialise…”
Louise: “It was an insurrection, but the issue was that people didn’t know the city, the buildings, where to go. We were next to the Stock Market, or the public TV, that could’ve been interesting to seize, but people were really focused on the presidential palace. So it was an insurrection, but there was no strategy, even if we had the streets to ourselves.”
Youri: “I thought it was the revolution. It was the best opportunity in my life. I thought the fire would grow even more. But it turned out more to be a revolt, a failed insurrection, something in between. I think it didn’t turn out to be a revolution because some key social groups didn’t come out at that moment, like the middle classes and the youth, especially in the cities. And also the poorer classes with a migration background. Not especially during the demonstrations, they were there, but they didn’t get involved in between the Saturday demonstrations, that were more like demonstrations of force. But the in-between, that’s when something revolutionary was happening, according to me, but in the cities, there was almost nothing happening, that really damaged the movement, there was a desertion of the urban classes.”
Julien: Some things really changed, the spread of certain tactics, like the issue of violence. There has been an evolution in the relationship towards police forces. At first, people were rather in favour of the police, calling on the police to join them, but within two months they had all understood the violence used against them. There was an instinctive reaction to regroup and to rethink violence as a legitimate mean to respond. I think this is something that the GJ movement has changed.
Youri: This is a turning point. Maybe I’m looking at things from an international perspective. It’s the peak of an intense political moment. Even if the GJ were not always part of previous movements, it’s the result of developments starting in 2016 and before. Suddenly, the movement became wider, more popular, and also more dangerous. We also saw a bunch of weak points of what would be a contemporary revolutionary movement, our weaknesses were laid bare open.
Julien: There was an opening, an opportunity, that the radical left failed to seize.
Youri: It showed weaknesses in the organisation of radical organisations, and also traditional ones. The GJ movement is an important moment of political recomposition, as well as a period of incredibly intense politicisation. Just like in all insurrectionary moments, there was a crazy wave of politicisation that will be felt in the next years. There is an enormous amount of political work to do, that needs to include an abandonment of some dogmatic positions by some groups.
Antoine: As Julien said, perspectives on violence changed, and even on direct action in general. It’s something that’s more associated with the autonomous left, libertarian left, with civil disobedience movements in the last years. Not just about forms, but also about the content, as a practice, a real pratice without intermediaries.
This leads to a further delegitimisation of intermediate bodies, like trade unions, who have the role of buffers between institutions and society. This was not just about the inability of these bodies to seize the real identity of the movement, even if I must say that some trade unions helped a lot on the local level. It was also about the State going from neo-liberalism towards the police State, a shift that has continued with the pandemic.
The last point was the question of the local. There was a re-politicisation of the local, of neighbourhood issues, and this has continued during the pandemic through solidarity networks. We’re in a process of a constant reshaping of forms. For a while, assemblies were used, now we’ve moved on. There’s a constant effervescence, and that has been created by the GJ in many places where there was nothing happening. It’s hard to have a full assessment, because there are so many places about which we don’t have much information, we don’t know about the results of all those roundabout GJ groups. For the moment, there is no strong interlinking between groups. It’s all under the radar. We need to know more about this reality to go further.
Julien: “We shouldn’t negate that there were fascists among the GJ. There were organised fascist groups that came to the demonstrations in Paris, those were enemies that had to be kicked out, but then there were reactionary elements, stereotypes, that had to be dealt it through discussion, not through violence.”
“We could see that national symbols, the Marseillaise, could have a revolutionary effect, a really galvanising one, but it also has an exclusionary effect for many people. It scares some. I think that was a mistake of the movement.”
Louise: “I remember, on December 1st, the first big barricade that was set up, there were organised far-right groups that were there. There were images of that, they did a lot of propaganda with that, they put their flags everywhere. And that also played a role on the involvement of the radical left, which then came in later, rather together with the Antifa to kick out those fascist elements.”
Julien: “And those fascists, they were wearing the yellow vest, whereas a lot of leftists, like the antifa, had a lot of trouble to adopt the yellow vest, even when they were kicking out the fascists. That created a weird image.” Louise: “Yeah, especially the Black Bloc, some people were a bit worried, not knowing about who were those people in black.” Youri: “Yeah, that kinda looked like the Black Bloc attacked the GJ”, whereas it was more like the antifa attacking fascists, and they did it well.”
Louise: “Yes, I agree with Youri, the left, or at least the radical left, intervened really late. And mostly during the demonstrations, the clashes, but they participated really little during the weeks. Leftists were suspicious, and also there was something about those activists not wanting to do the ‘dirty work’, you know, during the winter, standing on the roundabout and talking with ordinary citizens. Who wants to do that? Not many…”
Julien: “We could really see that among people with a migration background, the people from the quartiers populaires (densely populated neighbourhoods, mostly suburbs where working-class people live, mostly coming from former French colonies), the youth being like ‘Hey, wait, aren’t they racist?’ That was a factor that really maintained a distance between the GJ on the one hand and the left, and radical left, and the working classes with a migration background on the other. That also has to do with the regime’s strategies, targeting some elements of a movement. Just like the discourse about ‘breakers’, there was a discourse about ‘fascists’.
Youri recalls the incident with French Jewish philosopher Alain Finkielkraut, who “received anti-Semitic insults from one person at a GJ protest, but then they talked about it on the media for four days, saying that all GJ are anti-Semitic. That really did some damage.”
“The GJ was well cleaned up of fascists. There was a period of 2-3 weeks of clashes in Lyon and Paris, after the Paris fascist group ‘Les zouaves’ had attacked a GJ anti-capitalist group (from the Nouveau Parti Anti-Capitaliste) . There was a strong reaction by the antifascists, together with people from the cites, who went on a mission to kick those people out at demonstrations.”
“But it was also a debate about the movement in general, we had a lot of discussions in Montreuil about Islam, conspirationism, but that’s not the same thing as straight-up organised fascists. Organised fascists were progressively kicked out from the movement.”
Youri: “There was still a non-negligible part of the movement that was rather inclining towards the Rassemblement National (RN, far-right), on some roundabout there were fights, some split in two groups on the same spot, with a more left-leaning and a more right-leaning one.”
Julien: “On December 1st, and then especially on December 8th, there’s a real toughening of repression, and that has an impact on both the attitude of the GJ who continue to protest and on the composition of the crowd. Crazy things happened, such as the Black Bloc getting an ovation on the Champs-Élysées, scenes impossible to imagine. More leftist people, more determinate, joined the protests.”
Louise: “We could see a change in the chants and in the relationship to the police. When it started to repress more harshly, people stopped chanting ‘La police, avec nous!’, it was more anti-cop chants.”
“What mostly changed in early December, especially on December 8th, when repression was more brutal. Those were things that we already knew, I wasn’t surprised, but there was a big contrast with the previous weeks. I was rather surprised they hadn’t used all their usual techniques in the previous demonstrations.
What changed things was when the Détachements d’action rapide (DAR) were put in action. They were much lighter and made rapid interventions. And then in March they created the BRAV (brigade de répression de la violence) who was on motorcycles.
What was specific about police repression at that point was that it was against everyone. It didn’t matter if you wore a mask or not, they were just breaking skulls, shooting flashballs everywhere. Then ‘Black Bloc’ tactics spread, people wore more masks, to protect themselves from shots, gas, and also camera monitoring. But nowhere in the demonstration would you feel safe.
At first, when it was more like riots, we were stronger, we could disperse, but when we came back towards more organised forms, like marches. And then they were just shooting on everyone.
I had a personal experience with the DAR and it’s really impressive. It was happening before, but those could real trap people on a street corner and beat them up badly, and even just release them afterwards. It was more about fear, about punishment.
But there were also many arrests, an incredible number of speed trials each Monday with those arrested on the previous Saturday. And unfortunately, there were many tricks on how to defend yourself against the police, against the judiciary, that were not known to many people in the GJ. I went to some trials and it was quite crazy.
On March 16th, there was a big meeting of GJ in Paris for a demonstration, there were barricades everywhere, with the police trapping us on the Champs-Élysées. With a group of about 30, we tried to break the blockage in a side street, thinking it was heavily equipped, and thus slow, CRS (the usual anti-riot forces), but then they started running towards us, catching the first line. And we were unlucky, because we were alone, with no camera to film. The presence of journalists can sometimes be helpful, but there were none.
They hit me for 5 minutes, insulting me as a ‘bitch’, a ‘little whore’, they cracked open my friend’s skull. Luckily, they messed up their arrest papers for me, so I was released after the arrest. They’re groups that are made for interventions, jumping in and beating up people, so they transferred us to another unit, but they didn’t do the arrest papers. By March 16, just having a mask, or protection goggles, would be enough to get sentenced, under this article about “gathering with the intention of committing violence”, which was used against pretty much anyone. But luckily they didn’t do the arrest papers with the list of the things I had on me, so I could get rid of them on my way to the cell. I only had to stay for 48h and then they had to release me.”
Julien: When you look at the profile of those people who were maimed (lost an eye, a hand), about ¾ of them were first-time demonstrators. Some of the people who lost an eye had never been to a demonstration before. This whole idea that radicals were targeted is not true at all. Many were from the countryside, just came to the demonstration and lost an eye or were beaten up.
Louise: I think the goal was to dissuade, that’s how I saw it. From what I could see, and also from all the people I was detained with. There were also different intimidation techniques. They also tried to gain access to mobile phones, to get information about the organised groups, they put a lot of pressure on this goal.
Julien: A big change also was when they started to do a lot of controls ahead of the demonstrations. Starting from December 8th, the police was controlling all the toll booths leading into Paris, and already at 8AM on Saturdays they would have arrested thousands of people. And also at train stations, or before the demonstration in the streets. That was completely new. And that’s why they were accusing everyone with this article about “gathering with the intention of committing violence.” It was enough to have a jack in your car to spend 48h in arrest. They were just arresting everyone. And then there were prosecutors who were insisting on keeping people for the full 48h to prevent them from going to the demonstration, even if they had no evidence against them, which is completely illegal.
Louise: There were also prohibitions to go into some areas of Paris, even for some people who were actually working in Paris, they would be banned from those areas.
Élise: I think that starting from December 8, it wasn’t only about dissuading, but also about containing. They were under pressure after all these images of Paris burning, all this mess. March 16th was the last demonstration in Paris when we thought that we could overwhelm the police, bypass their whole set-up around the Champs-Élysées. And that’s when they put in the BRAV, and it made it hard to escape the format of a march with a predetermined itinerary. It wasn’t possible to go out and target some institutions. It was about dictating the proceedings of the demonstration.
Louise: What also played a role in that is when they started to play out the good GJ versus the bad GJ, when some GJ accepted to register demonstrations. That was especially in Paris. Then they were the good demonstrators that would not be repressed so hard and keep to their pre-agreed march, while others could be smashed, they were the Black Bloc, the breakers.
Antoine: Another important point was the penal repression, there were 400-450 people sent straight to jail, and another 600 deferred jail sentences; 1000 in total. Without counting all the suspended sentences. It’s thousands. It’s astronomical! For months and years, we have hundreds of people in prisons all over France. The only possible comparison in the last 50 years in France are the 2005 riots, the uprising in the banlieues. Back then, there were also thousands of arrests and about 800 jail sentences.
It’s crazy, especially in a context where there is no strong structure to help those help, there are enormous psychological traumas. This huge incarceration is not medialised so much. Police violence has become a big topic, judiciary repression has also been covered, but there’s almost nothing about penal repression.
We’re seeing an authoritarian shift, or rather an extension of authoritarian methods that were previously used against working-class neighbourhoods. There is now a generalisation of methods developed in a post-colonial context.
Antoine: what is important to underline is that the first activist group to call for joining the GJ mobilisation was the Vérité et Justice pour Adama committee (a committee set up to seek justice for Adama Traoré, a young Black man killed by the French police in 2016), together with antifascists and a queer liberation group. This is highly symbolic: those were the first ones who dared to jump in and join the movement.
They were the first to produce powerful analyses of the link between the GJ movement and the quartiers populaires, far from radical leftist ideological purity. They saw the link between police repression in the colonies, against migrant populations in the quartiers populaires and the repression of the GJ, seeing that there was no coincidence, but rather an extension of authoritarian practices.
Julien: This logic of hitting, going in for the contact, to shoot, and to aim for physical punishment of individuals: those are all colonial practices. This is more similar to what happened during the war in Algeria, during repression in Guadeloupe, when the prefect would simply give the order to shoot into the crowd with live ammunition. This is a different logic from classic crowd control which aims at containing a crowd and limiting damage. Now, this is the new norm. We can see it with current protests by high school students (lycéens), as soon as the police is blocked, they just charge in and beat everyone up. This is rather new.
Antoine: The German weekly Der Spiegel, which can hardly be called radical, not long ago talked about France as an „authoritarian Absurdistan“. Myself, I’m afraid to go to demonstrations nowadays, in Paris, Marseille, Lyon or elsewhere. On Tuesday, there’s a demonstration in Paris against the new legislative proposal ‘Loi sécurité globale’ to increase police control. They even want to forbid the filming of police interventions, even though that played a huge role in raising consciousness about repression during the GJ movement. The GJ movement empowered a lot of citizens, with many people becoming ‘their own media’, and closely documenting police violence, with media closer to the action. That has discredited even more intermediary bodies like mainstream media, replacing them with citizen media closer to what is happening on the ground. That has been one of the big victories of the movement.
It’s important to go to the demonstration on Tuesday, but I’m freaking out. I’m afraid it will be a massacre.
Julien: „What is freaky is the noise. Now, we know the noise made by different weapons, and when we hear those specific smacks made by flashballs, we don’t know who they’re targeting and the crowd freaks out. I remember lying down on the ground at some demonstrations as bullets were flying. You don’t know where it’s coming from, you can’t do anything.“
„I wouldn’t say that the police repression now is fully generalised. I think there’s a distinction between good and bad demonstrations. During the recent demonstrations against a reform of the pension system, you could see police showing a lot more restrain than usually. So there’s a duality where there are demonstrations organised by the intermediary bodies like trade unions during which the police shows more restrain, even when being provoked, and then there are other demonstrations when the police can freely maim and beat up demonstrators. It’s as if they wanted to show a nicer face during the trade union demonstrations, pretending that the police is not violent and that the GJ only got what they deserved.“
Louise: It’s true, but then, I also noticed that there was a huge concentration of police at the trade union demonstrations, marching in front of the crowd, preventing it from starting anything. We couldn’t move at all, there were thousands of cops. It seemed like there was more cops than demonstrators.
Julien: It was beautiful!
Louise: Yes, so many encounters, and it continues! Sure, the groups have become smaller, but it’s still happening, in Montreuil and elsewhere. It is transforming, it is taking new forms on the local level. And you could see the changes: when the pension reform protests started, we could see the trade union coming to see the GJ straight up, the teachers came, they were coming to assemblies to ask to join. Now it’s more local, like municipalism.
Julien: Yeah, there is a giletsjaunisation of activism in France.
The is a translation with some modifications of a text by Cerveaux Non Disponibles.
The ban on broadcasting police actions centralizes all fears, but legalizing drones and surveillance technology is just as damaging to freedoms and democracy.
It is a subject that is little discussed and yet concerns us all. The text provides in these gaps to legalize facial recognition in the public space and the real-time exploitation of information about people. The video stream would be processed live by the police command, as mentioned in Article 22. The text does not mention the term “facial recognition”, but it should be noted that all amendments aimed at clarifying the practice were rejected. An example is amendment n°CL340 which explicitly provided for the prohibition of facial recognition. Rejected! The spirit of this law is to put the entire public space (especially cities) under permanent control. Without blind spots, with all the technology of algorithms and their freedom killing uses in data collection on a daily basis.
The State has lost the battle on police violence since the yellow vests, especially through the profusion of images made available to all on social networks, which have become a true self-media for any individual or collective that finally finds a voice.
The purpose of this law, which provides for 1 year of imprisonment and a 45,000€ fine for broadcasting that “undermines the police” is to limit freedom of expression in order to regain control of a republican narrative that has been completely eroded. In order to regain a hegemonic discourse, the hundreds of arbitrary acts of violence, daily racism, almost permanent impunity, as well as the dirty work that the police carry out on behalf of the State have become realities that must be hidden at all costs.
@TaoualitAmar Twitter photograph Hannah Nelson, arrested by police on 17th nov
Today, the forces of law and order already regularly intimidate professional journalists or simple witnesses who film. The police are already exercising a judgmental practice in the field through the physical and psychological violence they exercise. Imagine their zeal if this law were to be passed… If the National Assembly gave even more power to those who already abuse it with impunity…
Without an image, how many crimes and violence would have been hushed up or would not even have reached the gates of a court? Judges themselves say it: images are useful and without them, the police version always wins.
Let’s remember the importance that images have had for several cases:
This law also poses a major technical problem. Implicitly, it would sign the end of live videos showing police officers. If in their great leniency of falsely naïve playmobils the LREM (Macron’s party) deputies have suggested blurring the faces of police officers, let us recall that it is currently impossible to blur faces in real time. And that, in general, blurring a face on video is a complicated technique that is not within everyone’s reach and that would in fact restrict many images. If, however, this abject law were to be respected…
Last but not least, it should be noted that the police are not worried by the diffusion of their faces, which they have already been in the habit of masking for a long time (as well as not wearing their numbers), and although we have seen barbaric acts committed by them, this has not been the subject of popular reprisals to date. The argument of police protection is not based on anything and is mainly a bluster that makes the oppressors look like the oppressed.
Other aspects of the law should be addressed, such as the extension of the carrying of weapons in public places, even when not in use, or the increased role of private companies in policing.
The journalist Nnoman (his video) is being beaten by police.
What is striking in this text, which was passed on November 17 in the National Assembly, 2 years to the day after the yellow vests began, is its martial aspect. Do we realize that in the same law there is a state response to social protest and one against terrorism? This law intends to globally manage these problems in the same way. The repressive outcome of the November 17 demonstration is particularly strong, especially for the press.
The terrible image of a system that only responds with violence and intimidation… including on totally harmless demonstrators.
But the thousands of people present around the National Assembly could feel the anger rising and that no water cannon will be able to extinguish.
“The last warning for journalists: leave the premises with your press card or you will be arrested.” Quietly, the police muzzle the press covering a press freedom rally… All this knowing that they are being filmed. The law has not even passed and France is already in a totalitarian country. And it’s hard to see how the trend could be reversed. Neither petitions, nor demonstrations, nor the UN will be able to stop the fascinating drift.
At least 7 journalists have been arrested, threatened and/or beaten. Journalists who were covering a rally for freedom of the press and demonstration. It is extremely serious what this government allows itself! In particular, photographer Hannah Nelson was arrested last night and spent the night in police custody.
Notis Mitarakis, the Greek Minister of Migration and Beate Gminder, Head of the European Taskforce for Lesbos and acting head of the EU task force on Lesbos visited Moria 21 on the island of Lesbos end of November.
by dunya collective from Lesbos (Greece)
It had the looks of a well-rehearsed show. Business as usual: In his speech Mitarakis emphasized that the camp was clean, save and orderly. He spoke of a “structure that has no traces of the chaos of Moria” and declared that flood protection measures had been completed and the camp was adequately prepared for winter. The camp could now function independently from the health care system of the city of Mytilini.
The minister continued by explaining that together with IGME1 the soil had been analyzed – a detail that could be of importance, since the camp is located on a former shooting range which makes contamination with lead and other heavy metals likely. With this step he reacted to the concerns of NGOs and media reports.2 EU commissioner of home affairs, Ylva Johansson, had stated after the fires in Moria in early September that conditions were indeed inacceptable. “Conditions in Moria, both before and after the fire, were unacceptable. Men, women and children living in overcrowded camps with poor sanitation and little access to health care.”3 Trusting Mitarakis’ comments, it looks like we are not about to recreate the same conditions. But the perspective of the people who must live in the camp is very different. It was not without reason that they quickly named the new camp Moria 2. A short overview:
I There are very few showers that only run with cold water, so-called bucket showers. Camp inhabitants have to improvise and build their own showers to wash themselves. There is neither running nor hot water. People have no other option than doing their laundry and washing themselves in the ocean.
II The quality of food is as bad as it was in the old camp Moria, the same catering company “Elaitis” brings the food. Food equaling three meals is distributed once a day. The food is of very low quality and in the evening it is often times spoiled already.
III Health care is insufficient. Many of the inhabitants do not trust the doctors anymore. There are long waiting hours and inhabitants often only receive paracetamol as a treatment. There is hardly any psychological care. There is an epidemic of scabies that was already a big problem in Moria 1.
IV The location of the camp is exposed to the north. The tents are thin. Wind and weather pull at them and cause enormous noise. Many inhabitants complain about sleep deprivation because of this. It is also cold at night and the tents are not heated. The use of radiators is officially forbidden, as is open fire.
V Electrical installations are insufficient and in many cases seem improvised. There has already been a fire in Moria 2, apparently caused by an electrical short. Inhabitants extinguished the fire, not the fire brigade.
VI There is very restricted access for the press. Journalists can only enter the camp with special permission and accompanied by police or camp personnel. These permissions are hard to come by. Of course, protection against COVID-19 is important, but these measures were already in place before lockdown. They aim at avoiding images of the ugly truth of the camp reaching the public.
VII Inhabitants often describe the camp as a prison. At the entrance there are metal detectors. Drones surveil the camp and there are 300 police officers on duty, working in shifts. On top of that, the possibilities of leaving the camps are heavily restricted. Lockdown has impacted the camp tremendously and now inhabitants can only leave the camp once per week for four hours maximum. This results in enormous psychological pressure.
Many do not now what is next to come. The repeating questions we encounter are: Will they decline my asylum application? Will there be a transfer to the mainland? Will I receive asylum? Will I be homeless? Will Germany take me in? What have we done to deserve this treatment? What will happen to me if I stay here? Will there be a new camp? Will I be allowed into the new camp? Will the camp be closed? How long do I have to stay here?
What do we know about the construction of a new camp that the EU task force is involved in? After his tour of the camp, Mitarakis underlined that Moria 2 was only temporary and together with the EU commission, a new, closed camp was in the works. “In the following month we will quickly work towards the creation of a more permanent, closed, controlled structure, in cooperation with the European Commission”, Mitarakis stated.4
Mitarakis has made similar statements before to online portal “Infomigrants”: “These camps will have double fencing, they will have a secure gate. Asylum seekers will be allowed to exit and enter using a card and a fingerprint at a dedicated time through the day. Camps will be closed at night – it’s a policy we are already implementing in the temporary camp in Lesbos. And also the camp will have a fully closed ‘pre-removal section’ for the people that have had final decisions and need to be returned to their countries of origin.”5
Doesn’t this contradict the statements of EU Interior Commissioner Ylva Johansson? She always stressed that a new building would be an open multi-purpose camp.6 But she also spoke of controlled entries and exits. Maybe Mitarakis is just not shy about speaking openly about his ministry’s plans. He simply does not see the necessity of being reserved when it comes to this issue. After all, the construction of such a prison camp is fully in line with the political agenda of the ruling Nea Dimokratia party. The ultra-conservative Greek government wants to show strength and score points with the extreme-right voters. It already did so with the eviction of the PIKPA on Lesbos.7
It looks as if the question of the construction date and exact location of the new camp is about to be resolved. All of the sites proposed until now are far away from the city or villages. Apart from the fact that housing people in camps for any length of time is inhumane, a camp in the middle of nowhere and without proper connections to public life has close resemblance to a prison. Social exclusion via spatial segregation is a popular tactic in European-Greek asylum policy. The question now is whether there are two different versions of one and the same camp in play, or whether Johansson deliberately used nicer words when speaking to the media to distort reality and calm public opinion.
Mitarakis talked big in September, announcing that the new camp will be completed before Easter of 2021. These plans can already be considered failed. There have been differences to be settled in regard to the location, which stalled the process and required new negotiations. “It is not easy to speak with the local population”, Gminder said to the press.8
This is why the visit to Moria 2 was only a small item on the agenda of the two politicians. The actual reason for the visit to the island of Lesbos must have been the agreement on the building site for a new camp. The two politicians met with officials of the European Commission as well as the Greek Ministry of Migration and technical advisors in Mytilini to discuss the project. The proposed location, directly next to a waste dump in Vastria, has already been rejected by the EU.9It would only damage the tarnished reputation of the Nobel Peace Prize winner further. The site proposed by the mayor of Mytilinis, Stratis Kytelis, and Charalambo Athanasiou, the representative of Nea Dimokratia of the respective prefecture, was the last one still on the table. After the meeting it was announced that this is the location they had now agreed upon. It is a private property called “Eleftherakou estate”, located about two kilometers to the east, near the landfill. The owner will cash € 70,000 of rent per month. The property belongs to the administrative district of the island capital of Mytilini.10Gminder and Mitarakis were confident that construction will start before Easter 2021 and the camp will be completed in autumn of the same year.11
We now know that a new camp will be built close to a landfill in the middle of nowhere. We do not know how open or closed the camp will be. But its location alone makes it a prison. It has also become clear that the current camp is a rather long-term “temporary structure”. Refugees will have to live there for another full year. This is an enormous psychological and physical burden for them. Europe has the responsibility of fairly allocating the people needing asylum. Particularly rich countries such as Germany are in a position to do so, but they obstruct this process politically. The new camp and the new EU migration package show what the phrase “No more Morias” actually means: The show must go on.
1 Hellenic Survey of Geology and Mineral Exploration. (https://www.igme.gr/)
6 Ylva Johansson in a conversation with German ARD, at 13:12min https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHVi99NdLME
7 PIKPA was a unique project offering shelter to particularly vulnerable refugees, without violence, police or fences. It was operation under the principle of “community organizing”. In the early hours of October 30th the project was evicted against the will of its inhabitants who were transported to Karatepe 1 camp. This camp is to be closed at the end of December. The refugees do not know what will happen afterwards.
On Saturday evening, a young Black man named Ibrahima B. was arrested by the Brussels police and died in custody under unclear circumstances, allegedly from a heart attack. Available information point out that he was arrested for… filming a police intervention! This was an illegal arrest and the police has blood on its hands, regardless of the actual cause of death.
Ibrahima was on his way to the North train station to go back home to another city and he stopped to film a police intervention against a group of youths. Although it is perfectly legal and legitimate to film police harassment, the police officers went after him, which made Ibrahima B. afraid and made him flee. He was eventually arrested and he died an hour later while in police custody, his lawyer saying that it took long minutes for the police to react when he fell down in handcuffs, presumably hit by a heart attack.
The police clearly doesn’t have a clean conscience, as it took them more than six hours to call Ibrahima B.’s family, and they lied saying that Ibrahima B. had defied the curfew, even though the time of death (8:22pm) was before the start of the curfew (10pm). Police has also been disseminating rumours about drug abuse, even though there are no such elements available at the moment.
If Ibrahima B. was white, he would probably still be alive today. This is proven by countless examples of police brutality targeting people of colour and foreigners in the recent months in Belgium. At the very same spot were Ibrahima B. was arrested, Black German deputy of the EU Parliament Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana was violently arrested and searched by the police for… filming the arrest of two young Black men. The police wouldn’t believe that the 71-year-old is a EU deputy… In April, riots erupted in Brussels after a young man of North African descent died in police chase. In July, a young man of Algerian descent died in police custody in Antwerp after a brutal arrest. In August, videos revealed that Slovak national was strangulated to death by the police in a cell as the police officers laughed and one of them made Nazi salutes.
Small demonstrations took place in Brussels to request justice for Ibrahima B. and we stand in solidarity with those experiencing police brutality and structural racism, and with all those who are fighting back! No justice, no peace, fuck the police!
Looking at pro-Trump far-right supporters breaking in the Capitol, many mainstream opinion-makers shake their heads over the dangers of polarisation and extremism, providing the (far-) right with a convenient discourse about “both sides” and advocating a return to a status quo that brought us where we are. But in times of rising fascism and increasing inequalities, polarization is a necessity.
A commentary by Jan Fürth
Taken out of context, polarisation and division discourses sound really neat to the ears of the average citizen. Who wouldn’t want harmony and unity? But when a dangerous far-right ideology is rising, the very same discourses are used to either condemn resistance as “polarising” or to discard it as analogous to the very same threat it is standing up to. Uncompromisingly standing up to these hateful ideas makes you a polarising figure. Taking the streets to face off violent far-right thugs makes you a thug. In the end, all that is left is to either settle for this far-right extreme as a lesser evil or sit tightly under a new ‘moderate’ normalcy. A right-wing neo-liberal one, of course.
This naive faith in the absolute need for moderation becomes dangerous blindness when there is a shift in ideology towards the far right. If one always ought to stand in the middle, then how far rightwards should one go in a country where the president and one of the two parties has shifted towards fascism? How much understanding should we show for far-right ideas when they become a growing part of the mainstream? Are the murders of some unarmed African-Americans OK because of the majority’s racism? Should one accept at least some children in cages because a majority of citizens approve of it? Should the coup attempt be met with some understanding for the far-right mob? Shouldn’t one abstain from criticising and mobilizing to avoid polarisation?
A logical consequence of discourses on polarisation is the understanding that there are two poles, two extremes. Indeed, there cannot be polarisation without two completely opposed camps, and thus we find ourselves left with the well-known ‘both sides’ discourse from Donald Trump’s reaction to the 2017 Charlotteville far-right terror attack. All critiques of the far right are being met by a barrage of ‘whataboutist’ fire, pitting the coordinated attack on the central institution of decision-making against the vandalism happening in the margins of some BLM demonstrations. By pushing this line, far-right violence is minimized and its structural and institutional character is obscured.
According to this view, Trump’s far-right movement is only an answer to – and even a defense against – the specter of some kind of ‘BLM Antifa neo-marxist anarcho-bolshevist’ threat, or rather conspiracy, against the United States. In the U.S. American context, this ‘red scare’ becomes a powerful weapon to present Trump as a lesser evil, relativizing his far-right views as necessary to avoid another kind of – this time un-American – extremism. Thus the polarization thesis becomes an appeal to choose your side, with a powerful far-right media machine making sure that you’ll make the right choice.
In addition to giving ammunition to the far-right movement, the polarisation-and-two-extremes argument is also being pushed by (centre-)right forces that are looking to re-establish the status quo ante – going back to the pre-2016 situation. The equivalence thesis then becomes an appeal to go back to the ‘golden mean’, i.e. the kind of consensus-based politics that are celebrated by (neo-)liberal and some conservative commentators as ‘reasonable’ and ‘civilized’. As we know from U.S.American politics dominated by two right-wing parties, this middle-ground is very much tilting towards the right. In this sense, calls for moderation are powerful appeals to upholding the current status quo, which is the continuation of the kind of right-wing neoliberal policies we have been seeing since Ronald Reagan won the elections in 1981, and even earlier: neo-liberal economics, institutionalized racism and U.S. military imperialism.
When Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are attacked as ‘extremist’ or ‘polarizing’, including by people from their own party, this right-wing normalcy is being reestablished again and again. The centre-right Democratic majority can distance itself from these ‘extremists’ in its ranks and claim to be the voice of reason in contrast to a Republican party that has been seized by its far-right wing. The hope being, of course, that their position as the status quo will be embraced by a majority of electors equally convinced about the need for a ‘return to the normalcy’. And there you go: you have Joe Biden.
While the Democrats’ bet worked out in a context of global pandemic with important human losses and catastrophic socio-economic consequences, especially in the United States, it has proved a risky one, and the gains are rather meager. Their lame strategy could only be saved by extraordinary efforts by women of color and other community organisers, but it doesn’t bode well for the future, as we can expect the business-as-usual technocratic approach of the Biden administration to fail to tackle the class and racial inequalities plaguing the country, not to speak of the climate crisis. In the meantime, the promoters and accomplices of the ‘polarisation’ discourses will make sure that the United States will stay stuck in the same right-wing neo-liberal dead-end, with a Trump-like escape into a far-right alternative reality remaining the only mean of expression for the country’s frustrations.
Far from being a strictly U.S.American issue, the ‘polarization’ discourse has also been visible in European discussions and has been prominent in recent discussions of events in Washington. As The Jacobin was reporting lately, no other than… British left-wing politician Jeremy Corbyn was attacked by commentators talking about the Capitol assault! In Germany, it was a deputy from Merkel’s right-wing CDU Party, Thomas Heilmann, who put on the same level Trump and Antifa or the German street movement against the far-right AfD party, saying that “Polarisation and denigration always lead to hate and violence”.
We must reject empty discourses about polarisation that carefully avoid to talk about fascism and instrumentalize far-right terrorism to attack the Left. Let’s call things by their names and categorically refuse false equivalences between fascism and anti-fascism, between racism and anti-racism, between far-right authoritarianism and broad popular leftist movements challenging the status quo. In times of rising fascism, polarisation is a duty. Polarisation is society breaking up. It’s up to us to organize, unite and rebuild!
Pfizer has only one, yes ONE, factory to produce all vaccines for all countries outside of the United States. And on Friday, it announced that it would have to delay promised deliveries for ‘a few weeks’ while it is upgrading this factory in Belgium. Instead of standing up to Big Pharma, EU countries have shown no more than resignation hidden by some grumbling. Except for some isolated voices, no one has dared suggest that countries use an existing legal mechanism: compulsory licensing. That would mean that anyone could start producing the vaccine. And it’s legal.
Indeed, the 1995 TRIPS Agreement (Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) negotiated by the World Trade Organisation includes Article 31, which states that countries „may use of the subject matter of a patent without the authorization of the right holder“ if their legislation allows for exceptions. And according to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), 156 countries currently allow such exceptions, including all EU countries. So what are we waiting for?
While this law is different in each country, it usually gives the right to the state to use compulsory licensing in cases of health emergency and/or when the producer is unable to deliver. Hard not to think about the current situation, right? It is obvious that Big Pharma makes more money by producing itself, distributing itself, setting its own prices, but it is now failing to meet demands and its greed needs to be stopped. All we need is to apply the law, make the vaccine license open to all, let all producers use their capacities to produce it.
Public authorities not only have the duty, but also the right to do so, especially since there has been about 12 billion USD of public funds involved in developing those vaccines, with very little transparency about any related conditions. The Moderna vaccine has become the most striking example of the neoliberal tradition of privatizing profit and socializing expenses. Whereas this small company developed the vaccine exclusively thanks to public funds, and the US government jointly owns the rights, there has been no challenge to the firm’s right to make excessive profits. And it is not shying away from it, selling its doses almost twice the price of the Pfizer vaccine, and almost ten times more than the AstraZeneca one. Even worse, Moderna’s top three executives executives have made more than a 100 million USD by selling their stocks just after announcing the vaccine’s successful development.
Don’t worry, Pfizer & co. won’t die of hunger if we take their vaccines: the law already foresees compensations for compulsory licensing. But there is no legal right to unlimited profits in a time of epidemic emergency. We have suffered enough from the fact that governments have abandoned their role in pharmarceutical research and development and let this field to the whims of Big Pharma. The very same giants that decided not to pursue research on earlier forms of coronaviruses because it didn’t seem financially profitable are now telling us to stay quiet and wait so that they can make a profit? No, societies need to take back their health safety under control and manage it according to the general interest, and not the profits of shareholders.
Already in the first months of the pandemic, there were calls to makes vaccines a ‘public common good’ once they would be developed. On April 24th, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, backed the idea when she said that the future vaccine would be „our universal, common good“. Then, at the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) May 2020 summit, China pledged that it would not license its vaccine, if it succeeded in developing one, making it available for all countries to produce and use. But as vaccines developed by major Western corporations received the green light in late 2020, it became clear that their distribution would follow the laws of the jungle: vaccines for the richest countries, profits for the corporations.
In December 2020, around a hundred countries led by India and South Africa tried to move the WTO Assembly into adopting a resolution waiving intellectual copyrights on anti-Covid vaccination and drugs. They were met by the flat refusal of Western countries, who harbour the headquarters, laboratories, factories and shareholders of Big Pharma. In doing so, Western countries are going directly against the interests (and health and life) of their own citizens, not to talk of humanity in general, but they are successfully upholding the global neoliberal status quo concentrating power and money in the West.
During the pandemic, the global Left has been mostly struck by apathy, sitting back with some Schadenfreude as right-wing governments that had been claiming for years that ‘there is no magic money tree’ started pouring trillions into the economy. Apart from some solidarity actions and calls to protect workers and the vulnerable, the left has not been able to raise its voice to push for more decisive action in the anti-pandemic response, from putting workers’ health before profit to standing up to Big Pharma. Some iniatives are now appearing and we need to rally behind them, taking the streets from the far-right bolstered by conspiracy theorists. From the ‘Zero Covid’ plan to the EU-wide ‘No Profit on Pandemic’ initiative, now is the time to rise and challenge the incompetent and corrupt neoliberal forces.