Dave – the editor
As promised, we said we’d try to address some of the criticisms that have been made about this post: Dear liberals – this is what working class anger looks like. The criticisms are italicised but we haven’t included the names of those making them. This is because a) we don’t want this to get personal and b) we know some of the people making the criticisms! By the way, we’ve included some comments that weren’t aimed at us but at others – this is because we feel they make points which deserve an answer.
Before we proceed, we want to state that one of the reasons for writing the post was to give an idea of how brittle people are feeling in an increasingly stressful social, economic and political climate. Being out and about earning a living at various jobs ranging from door to door leaflet delivery through to warehouse work and operating politically across the south of Essex, I’ve noticed a distinct change of attitude over the last few years. So, we feel this criticism is probably the best place to start:
Utterly wild justification of macho, mob vengeance and violence against protesters and environmentalists. The people dragging XR off the tube and pummelling them on the floor were unilaterally men, whilst people trying to shield them on the ground were mostly women – just as likely to be working class as one another, the women more so, that responded to this situation in completely different ways. The idea that this kind of social violence, doing the work of the cops for them, is some kind of legitimate release valve for class stress has terrifying implications on so many fronts. If we’re talking about XR not picking their targets right, why is any violence if it’s ostensibly done by working class people all right in that same vein? Routinely men abuse people they perceive as weaker than or ‘other’ to them who are not inconveniencing them at all on public transport, and that’s part of the drive behind this, it doesn’t need a reason, honestly staggering that anarchists are buying into this.
It wasn’t our intention to celebrate or glorify the violence that took place at Canning Town as the protesters were dragged from the roof of the Jubilee line train. Our intention was to highlight how stressed and brittle people are feeling and how it doesn’t take much to make someone snap and resort to violence. While we (and many others) still maintain that the XR action was poorly judged, what happened to the hapless protester after he was pulled onto the platform was horrible. This kind of violent reaction is the grim reality many of us in working class areas have to deal with on a daily basis.
Recently when we’ve been out operating politically, we’ve had a few close shaves where things could have got physical. If we come over as a bit spiky, that unfortunately is the persona we have to adopt in order to a) be able to live our lives without aggro and b) to be able to operate politically without undue attention from the wrong kind of people. We don’t glorify this in any way. We hate having to be like this but living and operating in the kind of environment we do, there isn’t a lot of choice.
The point of the post was to highlight what to us, appeared to be a lack of understanding of the brutal reality of working class life by the XR cell who staged the action at Canning Town. XR have been criticised for their perceived privilege which a) seems to have informed their weird cop loving fetish b) may explain their lack of understanding of what class struggle is, the reality of working class life and the role of capitalism in screwing us over and c) a perceived insensitivity to racism and racial oppression. We think it’s the combination of this and possibly other factors that led to this particular XR cell making the rash decision to pursue the action at Canning Town while naïvely having no appreciation of the adverse reaction they would get.
At this point, we want to acknowledge the fact that this action was discussed within XR and that the majority of their activists thought the action was poorly judged and would backfire on them. Sadly, that wasn’t enough to stop the cell from going ahead with the action at Canning Town. We also want to acknowledge that since this action, XR have taken on board the criticism that has been aimed at them over what happened and seem to genuinely want to learn from this. We, and many others, hope that XR will eventually assume a similar desire to learn why their attitudes towards the cops, class, capitalism and race also need to be addressed.
As stated earlier, the main point of our post was to highlight the reality of life in working class areas. However, a fair few of the criticisms we’ve seen have been about our perceived attitude towards direct action. These three are what we hope is a representative selection:
What’s a self appointed activist? Do you need a badge now? How is an ill advised action in an area chosen because it wasn’t properly on the underground “trampling on the working class”? This is bananas it’s one minor action by people trying to do a good thing.
Seriously though, for all the very, very legit criticisms of XR (class, race, cop-loving & strategy), people really need to get a grip and get things into perspective about this action. Obviously there are better targets than the underground, but lets not be disingenuous: how many of the same people jumping on the bandwagon to shit on these activists have not held up buses in the streets for a demo, blockade or street party at some time or another?
My unpopular opinion: people complaining about the XR people on the train at Canning Town saying “you have to bring the people with you.” The trouble is that 90% of UK population take attitude to protest and direct action in which they actively look for reasons not to support it. In fact the preferred mode here in the UK is for people to say “I agree with what you say, but I don’t like how you go about doing it.” People absolutely fucking yearn to take this attitude. The number of times I’ve, for example, been on picket lines and people say to me “well… I agree with you but I have to go to work.” And you respond, “I’m not asking for your agreement, I’m asking you not to cross the line because it’s the only means we have to secure better pay/conditions, and you agreeing in your head doesn’t help.”
We’re all self appointed activists. Anyone who has the drive to go out and campaign about or protest an issue they feel strongly about is self appointed. We know that the public probably see us as self appointed. That needn’t necessarily be a bad thing if, as most activists do their level best to do, we explain to passers by why we’re out on the streets trying to shove propaganda into their hands or disrupting the traffic. The problem is that there are some actions where the motivation for them isn’t made clear to bemused and pissed off passers by and that’s when things can get hairy.
Activists locking on outside a BAE facility in Filton in protest at arms sales to Turkey are out to disrupt production. It’s bloody obvious to any passers by and the workers who’ve suspended their consciences to work for an arms manufacturer what the target is and what the aim is. Obviously, the activists involved want to win people over and work to do that but knew that when they were in Filton (arms and aerospace central), they were highly unlikely to find a sympathetic audience there!
Back in 2017, I was on a Focus E15 housing march that started off at a tower block in Canning Town and made it’s way through the streets of Newham via a number of other tower blocks to finish up at the Carpenters Estate in Stratford. There was a plentiful supply of leaflets explaining what the protest was about and I spent most of the march handing those out to the people we passed and chatting to them where possible. Sure, there was some inevitable disruption to traffic but every effort was made to explain what we were doing and why.
We know that we’re not going to win people over and that a fair few will be hostile to the concept of taking action and fighting for a better world. Which makes it imperative that we do our level best to make the point of our actions as clear as possible and organise to deal with any hostile reaction we may get. That means having an understanding of the target, the area we’re operating in and the kind of people we may encounter. Okay, none of us are perfect and we could all be better at making it clear what we’re doing when out on an action. Not wanting to be harsh but it would appear that the XR cell who ignored the advice of the majority of their fellow activists didn’t take any of these points into consideration before heading to Canning Town.
A few comments have been made about delaying people getting to (or coming home from) work – here are a couple of them:
All I can see is a docile and obedient working class going to work every morning so that the bourgeoisie can sit around and get fat. You’re trying to tell me that the working class are no longer acting like donkeys but we live in a world with more billionaires than ever before and you don’t get a billionaire unless he has a lot of donkeys to exploit.
Why is it that sanctity of the working day is not called into question in any of these discussions? How dare anyone disrupt the peace of the daily grind, the contentment in every day predictable misery…as if any one of those commuters doesn’t count down the hours as soon as they get to work, as if it’s not the pathetic existence of wage slavery itself that causes people to react like this when they see people doing something unpopular.
The vast majority of us work because we have to pay the rent/mortgage, put food on the table, pay for the utilities and pay to travel to and from work. Also because occasionally, we’d like to afford the nice things in life like an evening out or a holiday. With an increasing number of people becoming self employed and/or working precariously, work is a more pressurised, atomised and stressful experience. Which is exactly how our rulers like it so we see each other as rivals and are at each others throats.
Being self/precariously employed means that no work equals no money. That could lead to missed mortgage/rent payments and eventually, not having a roof over your head. That’s the kind of stress people are under. In our original post, we weren’t in any way celebrating the sanctity of the working day – all we were trying to do was point out how an increasingly precarious work situation narrows people’s focus down to getting through the daily grind and surviving. This narrow focusing down on work and survival probably explains why some people who are under intense pressure feel inclined to lash out at anyone attempting to disrupt their journey to and from work. This means we all have work to do in continuing to try and link this experience to an accessible explanation of why everything’s going to shite and the need for collective organisation to deal with that.
Okay, I’ve done my level best to answer the criticisms that have been made. I’m not claiming this is comprehensive in any way and realise that some points may have been missed or glossed over. Time permitting, I’m happy to answer any further points to keep the discussion going…