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Eyewitness to the London riots - it's all about class
Workers Solidarity interviewed Hackney local and education worker, Alex Carver, about the roots of the London riots. Alex is a long standing activist in the IWW union, housing struggles in the East End, and the big left events since the start of the recession, most recently the M26 Militant Workers Block and the J30 Strike project. He was a direct witness to the rioting on Monday. Here he tells Workers Solidarity why he thinks that the riots are best understood by loooking at class rather than race.
You went down to have a look at the riots, were you not afraid of being beaten and mugged? From media scare-mongering that's what would be expected by most people.
Well, I had no idea what to expect exactly, which is why I went, but no, I wasn’t – and I'm not scared by the riots now. I'm not about to glorify them either, but this is not the start of a new dark age.
What's happened in the rioting is an understandable reaction to the way things are set up – I’m reminded of the famous bank robber Willie Sutton answering the question ‘why do you rob banks?’ with ‘because that’s where the money is’. The kids robbed the shops because that's where the stuff is. They attacked the cops because they'd stop them. It was simultaneous, it was not two groups of people, one with a beef against the cops and another with light fingers – it was one group of mainly young people. They didn't attack each other, rape people, mug people - I was able to walk freely amongst them in my shirt and slacks straight from work; lots of people who were obviously not rioting walked with the crowd in daylight – many have said the mood turned later on but actually I stayed with it with a friend, who was also not dressed to fit in, until after midnight.
I understand things have been much nastier in other places; in Hackney at least, enough of the community were unafraid to go out and talk to the youth, even being supportive and sympathetic, to stop its total destruction.
Many were quick to say the rioting was not political – what did you think from what you saw?
When I went through Hackney on the bus the next morning, the damage visible told an interesting tale along with what I already know: Opticians with £100+ glasses, betting shops, estate agents, JD sports, Barclays, pawn shop/crack converters, electrical goods shop, M&S, a small police outpost and a Spar garage. On the other hand we know a local independent shop was thoroughly looted (the one we stopped being torched) and at least 5 cars were grilled.
The first list of targets was done by a mobile mob who left all other shops and buildings in between - very clearly targeting places with instant value goods, impersonal chain shops - or places they had a beef with. Then the second list of targets that are more obviously anti social happened mostly when the rioting had stagnated on Clarence Road next to the Pembury estate. Choices were being made about what to hit and what not to. If we look at who rioted and how they rioted, we can find political aspects to all this, just not a political motivation.
Do you think those on the left have any useful role to play in relation to the riots?
Along with lots of other leftists I have been watching and engaging, and it has been worthwhile: and I have got a really useful idea of what the atmosphere was like - in Hackney at least – and that’s so, so important. I can’t imagine how differently people who only saw this on TV or from miles down the road feel. We have also been advising on police tactics without encouraging the rioting – it is far worse for the area, in my mind, that any kid gets sent down; dealing with someone who has done a stretch is far harder than finding a directionless rudeboy focus. We have also stopped some bad things, like friendly fire incidents with bricks, and I helped my friend put out a fire in the shop on Clarence Road – again, we didn’t get stopped, lots of the crowd ran in and helped; it was almost as if they were making up their minds. I'm terrified I'll be done for going into the shop though, I can’t imagine a judge believing I was putting out the fire whilst everyone else was pilfering the drinks.
What do you see as the main reasons people are rioting? The left, at least, is identifying racism as a major cause.
I feel quite strongly on this. It is not about race, and it’s not about the shooting either. Those are only elements in an overall economic situation. Up and down the country a racial mix of youth have been taking advantage of the chaos - together. I saw this mix personally, but you can see it on the news and internet too. People are looting because they want things. That’s economic and social, that's not some kind of misguided protest at police racism.
In fact the whole narrative of police racism is useless here. You don't nick shoes'n'brews and run from the police 'cos you feel harassed by Stop and Search, and certainly not these kids - they're scallies, rudeboys, they get stopped 'cos they're the kind of kids who do naughty things - like they're doing now. They feel harassed certainly, but they also feel fully excluded from far more than polite treatment by the cops; otherwise their behaviour is inexplicable.
Things have moved on from the early 1990s in terms of policing, but also, things were never really primarily about race rather than poverty in many of the previous famous riots. The people at the bottom of the heap are there because they came to the UK as poor migrants and have been slotted into their new society at the same level at best, or even lower most of the time. This isn’t because all half-decent jobs bar ethnic minorities; look at the difference between Bangladeshi migrants and Indian migrants in terms of earnings and social position; is white English peoples’ racism so complex that they manage to exclude Banglas but allow Indians a foot on the ladder? Of course not.
Social outcomes are primarily set by economic background, your class. Of course that ties in with ethnic groups, but it is that way round. Not the other. Some ethnic communities are poor, their poverty leads to exclusion, which leads to a disregard for the law, which leads to police attention, which leads to grievances. Of course this is also true for completely native white communities too – indeed, poverty is generally shared in mixed race communities. A legion of liars will now come out of the woodwork to try and make this about race and policing, not capitalism. Ignore them and their false 'community' - they are the problem, not the solution.
I know that saying this is considered racist by a whole range of people on the left, in education, in community organisations, in the unions. Even people with a class analysis seem to be obsessed with racism being the core oppression in the UK. I can just see how badly attempting to express what I have just said to a colleague at my school would go.
A lot of my parents’ generation take 'institutional racism' as a given, due to the recent history of colonialism for them and the experience of the early days of mass migration to this country. They see it as a huge issue, and are encouraged to do so by both the right and the left of every stripe, television and print media, historians and authors alike. Very few people think it is actually an easier issue than class, very few realise it is actually an easy excuse for the powers that be. We aren’t confronting the establishment with their racism, we’re letting their economic system off the hook. If they can say the riots are about racism, and they can racialise the obviously economic elements, they can muddy the water and keep public opinion divided and divisive. The right will be bolstered by indignant white people and the left will throw itself into
What visibly unites the rioters is not race, but from up and down the country - dress code. The police see people like that and make the probably very accurate assumption about where that person is from and the kind of attitude they have - and they harass them, they stop them, they give them grief; cos they are think they are from a poor, dispossessed place both literally and psychologically - and are likelier to have committed some street crime.
Why am I not allowed to say that? That crime is linked to poverty? Are we not the left any more, and now have some kind of oppression - lead analysis of everything?
What about the argument that the riot is primarily caused by poor policing and in particular police harassment?
Police visibly target visible crimes, because not only are these easier to solve but they are under pressure from the public: the kind of person who writes to their local paper cannot see fraud and rape, they see street robbery and vandalism. This means police spend most of their time focussing on kids in sportswear; what I'm saying is that this isn't the police being massively prejudiced, it's them going to where the kind of crimes they are told to deal with are.
Police harassment leads to a dislike of the police, but the explosion of disregard for the law over the last few days needs to be seen a broader phenomenon with many factors playing a role in creating the character of the riots. This is actually a far more rewarding way to look at things from a left perspective because it suggests that there are systemic problems that 'better policing' will never address.
The police are slammed again and again about the racism that must be endemic in the Force due to the figures for Stop and Search and the prison population; if they alone could do something about it, they would have. I think the truth is that demanding the figures change is just a game politicians play to complicate a straightforward class and poverty issue - that the geographic areas the prison population and kids who get regularly stopped come from, are poor areas abandoned by the political class, with demands unmet by the economy.
To say whether we think the police unfairly target people of a certain age, race, or appearance is to pointlessly put ourselves in their shoes rather than focus on the bigger issue of why crime happens. I think the important thing about police harassment here is to understand that it exists as a concept in its own right – it has a life of its own.
What matters is that we accept people in many ethnic communities, areas, and age groups, discuss police harassment and are encouraged to do so by politicians and the race industry (all the dodgy think tanks, campaign groups, 'race advisers' etc.) and the ‘community leaders’ that rub shoulders with the race industry and MPs. This is convenient for the political class, as it gets people into a proper tizzy over who is harassed and who is not, why they are harassed, who can be in the oppressed group, who has a legitimate grievance, who gets the funding for their project – etc.
Coming to this situation as someone who wants everyone to be in the same community organisations reveals just how clever the move to special interest groups by the last four governments has been. Until now it has kept a lid on things as our traditional support networks at work and at home have been destroyed along with our job and housing security. People will often yell ‘police harassment’ as a battle cry – the war is over our entire quality of life and sense of belonging.
What do you think will be the consequences after the riots?
Well I can only speak about Hackney, where no one lost their home or died. But if the looting continues nightly and Primark and M&S close down forever, what of it? What will make us happy is a choice of jobs, homes, places to spend time with our friends - not a choice of groceries and underwear. Perhaps this will help more people see that. From the flames comes clarity. The obvious inability of the cops to gain control in the last week means that hopefully we won’t talk endlessly about better policing of poverty, but address this violence by looking at what the answer really is; a society where
Read more political analysis of riots
Sun 23 Apr, 16:03
Irish Anarchist Review 5 - Summer 2012 16:46 Fri 15 Jun 0 comments
Welcome to Irish Anarchist Review issue 5, produced by the Workers Solidarity Movement. In this magazine we look to explore theories, thoughts and ideas about political struggle. We set out to analyse where we are aiming for as a revolutionary movement and explore how we might get there. The purpose of ‘Irish Anarchist Review’ is to act as forum for a sharing of ideas about revolutionary struggle. Building a successful revolution demands genuine discussion, debate and sharing of ideas. We hope that the articles in here will help to stimulate discussion and provoke debate and perhaps even motivate some of our readers to respond with articles of your own.
Report from the frontlines of the Ardoyne anti-Orange Order riot 19:19 Fri 15 Jul 0 comments
Rioting erupted in ‘nationalist areas’ across the North on Tuesday after the annual Orange Order parades. The worst of the trouble was in Ardoyne in North Belfast which left 16 police officers injured and with over 60 lethal plastic bullets fired leaving many people injured. WSM member 'John Creagh' reports from the Ardoyne on the disturbances and what they tell us.
WSM twitter live during Ardoyne Orange Order July 12th parade 08:57 Tue 12 Jul 0 comments
It is this time of year again when the spectre of sectarianism and division comes to the fore in the north of Ireland. It is a time when communities, kerbstones and poles are marked and carved into territory. There are those who will be living in fear and silenced from speaking out while the rest of us are told to turn the other check in the interests of peace and stability. It is unfortunate, if perhaps somewhat inevitable, that the now annual battles around the ‘marching season’ fall along religious lines. The Orange parades are being used to test the supposed 'neutrality' of the northern regime and the PSNI in particular. The losing side in this dangerous game however is likely to be the working class, as the confrontations and the sectarian attacks that occur around the Orange marches drive people further into ‘their own’ communities.
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In Ireland we like to think that we’ve long ago abolished the death penalty; that we’ve progressed beyond such primitive practices, that we’re too civilized for that. But Irish people are still being sentenced to death, and not even for crimes they have committed but for the crimes of our murderous health system.
WSM coverage of Election 2007 in Ireland 17:24 Tue 15 May 0 comments
On May 24th, 2007, the people of the Republic of Ireland will cast their votes in a general election. This election will be a farce, where the people get to choose between a list of nearly-identical politicians, with identical policies, based on promises that nobody believes. That's what they call democracy.more >>
Stormont, Petitions of Concern and Marriage Equality Nov 04 0 comments
The issue of Marriage Equality is to be debated for the fifth time in Stormont today (Nov 2nd). Yet again, however, the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) has launched a Petition of Concern to ensure that should the motion be successful its legal passing will be blocked.
For the first time in the history of the Northern Irish state a majority of MLAs (members of the Parliament in the North of Ireland) have voted in favour of Marriage Equality. The motion, however, has fallen due to the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) launching a Petition of Concern which blocks any passing of the motion to law.
The most successful G8 in Northern Ireland ever? Jun 21 0 comments
At the post G8 press conference, PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggot claimed the G8 summit in Enniskillen was the "most peaceful and stable" in its history. The G8 gangsters may have left dazzled and wined by our local political class but beneath the media spin and smokescreen lies the ugly reality of a new Northern Ireland of one rule for the rich and powerful while the rest of us must accept our place in the ladder, or face the consequences. We only need to look no further than the selective internment of Marion Price and others.
Oppose the G8: Dealers of Austerity May 28 0 comments
The media charm offensive has began as our local corrupt political class roll out the the red carpet to the notorious gang of eight, dealers of austerity, state terror and imperialism. The beautiful, tranquil lakes of Fermanagh will be turned into a "ring of steel" with security fencing extending for miles, protected by an army of professional thugs and watchtowers to keep the rest of us plebs at bay.
Belfast flag riots: Class Unity not Sectarian Diversions Dec 22 1 comments
nce again violence has flared across Belfast and other parts of the north as protests continue around the flags issue. The latest disturbances come as Stormont Assembly leaders, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness meet to discuss another wave of street protests, and their concerns about the damaging effect it is having on the economy leading up to the busiest shopping period of the calendar. But as each issued a separate statement calling for protests to come to an end, loyalist gangs flexed their muscles, blocking off streets and hijacking cars.more >>
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