Coming not long after an SF member made a visit to the Berlin section of the FAU (Freie Arbeiterinnen- und Arbeiter-Union – Free Workers' Union) in July, the Thames Valley Solidarity Federation hosted a member of FAU Freiburg for a talk and presentation on the struggle to organise workers at the Cinema Babylon in Oxford. This was a struggle that was to prove an important turning point for the FAU, and one which briefly saw them banned from being able to call themselves a union. Having been a member of FAU Berlin at the time, our German comrade was very closely involved in the struggle and wanted to share with us the difficulties, the victories and the lessons that had been learnt.
The anti-workfare campaign is building up in Reading. Over the summer, SF members organised ad hoc pickets with local IWW and AF members. We decided to build up the basis of these joint efforts through coordinated planned actions. We held an initial meeting in August at which we decided to follow SF’s national target and to build our campaign with claimants. So we are aiming to alternate actions outside Poundland and JobCentrePlus.
Three weeks ago, two of us distributed propaganda on the rights of claimants in relation to the workfare schemes outside JobCentre. It became obvious that many of them did not know about it yet. Last Saturday, we held the first picket outside Poundland, which was met with overwhelming sympathy for the campaign from workers and members of the public alike.
At 12pm on Sunday 15th July, SolFed members dragged themselves out of bed to join forces with local AFed and IWW activists to extend the anti-workfare campaign to the Costa coffee chain. A cup of coffee from the independent coffee shop next door helped us get ready for the picket. We managed to hand out around 150 leaflets, and, as before, we felt that people were generally very sympathetic to our action (apart perhaps a traditional Catholic, (French) National Front voter).
In perhaps the greatest team-up since The Avengers (Emma Peel and John Steed, not that comic book superhero rubbish) members of SolFed and the IWW organised a protest and leafleting of Pizza Hut in Oxford Road, Reading, tonight at 5-30, fighting against thunder, lightning and torrential rain to make the case against workfare. Joined by members of TUC unions they leafleted the local community and found many sympathetic voices from people who had themselves been threatened with the joys of workfare. The Pizza Hut staff were happy to come and talk to us and understood why we were there and we encouraged them to send a message to their regional office to abandon the workfare scheme. They obliged by faxing one of our leaflets through to their regional officer.
On Saturday the 7th of July Thames Valley Solidarity Federation joined a host of other groups in a day of action against workfare in Oxford to mark the start of the Week of Action.
Like many other groups on the day, we began with the dilemma of who to target. Holland & Barrett had surrendered the previous week and there were so many exploiters to choose from. Still, all were in agreement that it was a fine dilemma to have!
Designed and manufactured by a local artist and banner maker on behalf of the local, the new banner will be seen out and about at SF events and actions in the Thames Valley area. It will also be joining us, along with the banners of our fellow locals, on the Radical Workers' Bloc at the Tolpuddle March on the 15th.
Hopefully the banner will be a great asset in terms of representing Thames Valley Solfed, and will hopefully add to our presence in Thames Valley!
On Tuesday 23 August, youth workers in Oxfordshire went on strike over the County Council's plans to off-load its 26 youth centres in favour of “community hubs”, putting 80 professional youth worker jobs at risk and devastating services.
In Oxford a free coach had been put on by Unite. I joined a group of 20 or so supporters and striking youth workers and set off to the pickets in Banbury.
We arrived in Banbury at around 11am to join the already large and colourful picket at Banbury Youth Centre. This was the second picket of the day after a line at the council office from 8am. The atmosphere was good, considering the situation and the miserable weather, thanks to the large amount of support from passing traffic and pedestrians.
Friday the 17th of June saw the first Oxford 'Strike Assembly', meeting in advance of the strikes on June 30th to discuss, plan and organise.
We had public and private sector workers, unemployed, self-employed, students and NGO workers attending.
We are holding a morning rally which will go from picket to picket on the 30th: Meet at Gloucester Green at 7.30 am! Pickets are confirmed at Gloucester Green outside the Job Centre and at the Oxford and Cherwell and Valley College on Oxpens, so will be visiting there and other as yet unconfirmed pickets.
In the news recently, there have been a few articles about a cop and various politicians downplaying the seriousness of rape. These unfortunately aren’t only the words of a few ‘out of touch’ old sexist men, they reflect a wider culture that blames women being 'provocative' for rape, and excuses rapist men on the grounds that they have uncontrollable sexual drives.
In days gone by it was a popular cry for mediums when attempting to conjure the spirits of the deceased to ask: ‘is there anybody there?’ (for older readers think Margaret Rutherford in Blythe Spirit). The same phrase seems to have found its way into the lexicon of the state in recent weeks as it attempts to mop up the strays and slackers who have failed to return their census forms. An army of civil servants have been annoying people around the UK who have forgotten to fill in their forms.
On Friday 13th May Thames Valley (Reading) SolFed returned to the local Office Angels in support of Dan’s wage claim. By now people had begun to recognise us and in general the public were taking our leaflets quite happily. At 5-45 some of the staff from Office Angels came down and in contrast to the previous night's scuffle the mood was light-hearted. The man from the office who had sought to grab our leaflets came to apologise and tell us how much he respected our actions in support of Dan.
On Thursday 12th, Thames Valley Solfed leafleted outside Office Angels in Oxford, in addition to the pickets that we undertook in Reading.
We had about 10 people over the course of the picket, including friends of SolFed members who were passing & wanted to help out, a member of The Commune up for the day, and other Oxford locals. The office looked deserted at first but a member of staff came out & accepted our leaflet, but produced one of their own which deplored “the need for direct action”.
On Wednesday 11th and Thursday 12th May two members of the Thames Valley SolFed local leafleted outside the Reading branch of Office Angels as part of the nationwide campaign against the firm’s dodgy practices. Round one of the leafleting started on Wednesday at 9 am and included an imaginative re-working of the Office Angel's logo on the door of their building. On both days members of the public showed interest and often support for the campaign with at least 6 people saying that they would phone Office Angels to complain about their behaviour.
In the face of the media storm over the protest on March 26, it’s important for all of us involved in fighting austerity to take a step back, whether we think the occupations and property destruction were useful or not. Ultimately, whatever their worth, it’s not through riots or occupations that we can defeat austerity. Only by causing economic disruption, and making it more expensive to carry through with the cuts than to make us concessions, will we win. And where we have the most power over the economy is in the workplace. It’s our work that makes up society and if we withdraw it by striking, or take other forms of direct action such as go-slows or work-to-rule’s, we – the working class – can call the shots and stop this attack on our class!