Friday, 12 August 2011

Defence Squads Stopped The Riots, Now Make Them Permanent

The police and politicians are claiming that it is them that have brought the riots and looting to an end. That is nonsense. In London, its true that the level of policing was increased from 6,000 to 16,000, but the riots were not just taking place in London. Given that police were being taken off the streets of Manchester, Leeds, and other cities where riots had also occurred, you would then have expected that rioting in these areas would have increased had the account of the police and politicians been true. It didn't. Moreover, London is an area of around 1800 square miles. Even 16,000 police on the streets comes to just 10 police per square mile.
Given that the gangs of looters were springing up quickly, distracting police to one area by lighting fires, and then looting in another area, given that we now know from the figures of those going through the Courts, that 75% of those involved were looting in areas outside their own, it is clear that even with 16,000 police the looters could have run rings around them. The real reason the riots ended was that ordinary people, like the Turkish and Kurdish workers and shopkeepers of Dalston in London, or the ordinary workers in Birmingham, where unfortunately three young workers were killed by the thugs, were organising themselves to defend their communities. That completely reversed the situation.
Now it meant the thugs and looters did not know if they were going to go into an area where they would end up getting a good kicking from local workers. There are lots of reasons why the lesson from this is that we should now make these local Workers Defence Squads permanent, why we should extend them across the country, and why we should demand they be put on a legal footing, and brought under local democratic control.

For one thing, as one Irish worker in Enfield who had organised with some of his neighbours to defend the area and the petrol station put it, the police are part of the problem. It was the shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham that provided an initial spark for the rioting, that was then utilised by opportunist thieves and gangs. But, it has also been a return of more oppressive police tactics, such as the return of stop and search – which helped provoke the riots of the 1980's – which has provided additional fuel to the fire that created some of the momentum for these riots.
In reality, that is inevitable given the nature of the Police and its role. The usual description of the role of the Police adopted by the Left is that it is to protect private, particularly Capitalist, property. But, in reality this is not true. It is not true, because the nature of criminal activity against property is such that preventing it is near impossible. Instead, private property is reimbursed by insurance companies where theft or damage occurs, and the role of the Police is then to detect, rather than to protect. They concentrate on finding the criminals after the event, and bringing them to trial, thereby protecting private property only in the sense that known criminals get locked up, and future criminals are potentially deterred. If Police do actually prevent or protect property from criminal activity, it is almost always due to either good fortune of being in the right place at the right time, or else it is a result of police intelligence, which is almost exclusively geared towards the organised criminal gangs, engaged in the more serious forms of crime. But, the majority of crime is committed ad hoc, by opportunist criminals.

It is like having a large army geared to set piece battles trying to deal with groups of marauding guerillas. As a consequence, the only possible means of acting in a preventive manner is to adopt ever more repressive measures targeted at those communities, where the guerillas/criminals are seen as being based, and at least to an extent given support. All experience of such tactics is that it can only ever alienate the community as a whole against which such tactics are adopted.
A look at the experience of the riots, demonstrates this. Instead of trying to prevent the rioting and looting, in most cases, the Police largely stood back. Then they carried out their normal policing function of detecting. They trawled through masses of CCTV and other film footage, to identify the criminals, and then went to arrest them, and process them through the Courts. No doubt an efficient use of resources from their standpoint, but hardly comfort, for the worker out of a job, because their place of work has been torched, or for the worker burnt out of their home, or for the small shopkeeper whose livelihood has been destroyed, or for the victim of thuggery left dead or badly injured!

But, also from a working-class standpoint, the adoption of these kinds of repressive measures are inherently against our immediate and longer term interests. The same kinds of repressive methods used in, exclusively working-class communities, to supposedly prevent petty-crime etc. are also extended into the use of under cover officers, such as those used to infiltrate the environmental movement, and which have always been used to infiltrate the Labour Movement. One former head of Special Branch admitted on a TV programme a few years ago, that during the 1970's, and 80's they had 200 top Trade Union officials on their books as informants, for instance.
But, those kinds of repressive measures, and the laws built up around them, were also used during the Miners Strike, to swamp Mining Communities, to prevent free movement of strikers etc., and they have been used in many other disputes to the same effect, and for the same ends. Of course, it is these kinds of large scale, class confrontations, fought out between contending armies that the police are really set up to address. It is in that sense that they truly perform their function as the defenders of Capitalist property, and interests.

So, as workers, we have no interest in paying for the force that effectively oppresses us, and acts in the interests of the bosses against us. Still less, when as was shown clearly with the riots, that force is incapable of providing us with any kind of meaningful defence when it is actually required, even against literally a handful of thugs and looters. But, the riots are only a clear example of that. Every worker who lives on an estate where these same kinds of anti-social elements exist – and that is most working-class communities – has seen this kind of approach from the Police repeated a thousand times. They engage in all kinds of social activities that should really be the function of Social Workers and Youth Workers, and of the Local Council, but when it comes to dealing with the thugs, they are usually missing. The classic experience is that when the Police are called to some outbreak of anti-social or criminal activity, they arrive 20 minutes too late, with sirens blaring, so that the criminals have plenty of time to make their escape!

And, this just gets repeated over and over again. There are now many organisations who are involved with the Disabled, who are reporting an increasing number of attacks by thugs on Disabled people. Such attacks have, of course, been a feature of life for many Black and Asian people for decades. But, the nature of the Police as set out above is not at all geared to dealing with this kind of activity.
Only when some serious offence has occurred is the nature of the Police, and of the Law, geared to an adequate response. But, for the individual or family that has been killed or driven to suicide by years of abuse, and low level of aggravation, that the Police have simply ignored, or taken no serious action to stop, that is way too late. That was the case for example with Fiona Pilkington and her daughter.

As, the Irish worker from Enfield put it, the real answer is not to criminalise the young people involved, but for the local community to organise itself, to prevent the anti-social behaviour, and petty-criminal behaviour itself, by controlling those elements – old and young – giving them a clip around the ear, and sending them on their way. That is the way, working-class communities always used to police themselves in the past, before the middle class Liberals persuaded them to put their faith in the Capitalist State. And, of course, those same woolly minded, middle-class Liberals, who often live far removed from such activities, in their leafy suburbs, would be the first to complain about such a working-class response, preferring instead to protect the civil liberties, and human rights of the individual thug or petty criminal.

On the BBC's “Question Time”, those kinds of wooly minded Liberal ideas were well represented. Asked if “vigilantism” was justified, only John Prescott came close to giving a decent answer. Former top cop, and Liberal candidate for London Mayor, Brian Paddick, ridiculously said, what about those who are vulnerable, and can't defend themselves like my 92 year old Mother. But, of course, the whole point about a working-class, collective response, is that it DOES NOT depend upon individuals being able to defend themselves, precisely because it is collective! No one would suggest that the old and frail should go out on the streets, baseball bat in hand – though there are undoubtedly, things that those not able to do that could do, behind the scenes. Tory David Davies, equally, was keen to place things on an individualist rather than collective basis, arguing that it would be wrong for such groups to go out looking for trouble, but that individuals had the right to defend their own property.
Prescott, argued that people had set up their own defence because the Police had failed to protect them, and they had every right to do so. Meanwhile, vicar John Sentanu, opined that, such groups could be infiltrated by the EDL, or that even the Mafia might set itself up to provide “protection”. Of course, it is possible that the EDL or other unsavoury elements might infiltrate them. But, they might also infiltrate the local Church, would he then propose closing all Churches to avoid that possibility! There have after all been vicars who have been BNP supporters. In reality, any organisation in Civil Society could be taken over by some small group if the majority of ordinary people do not participate in it, and ensure that it is reflective of their interests. But, on that basis we would ban all organisations within Civil Society. Moreover, if ordinary workers are not to be trusted to be able to run even these limited aspects of their lives, then why would he think that these same ordinary workers are fit to have the vote, because after all they might make equally irresponsible decisions about who they elect. In reality, it is the same old claims, and belief that only they are fit to rule and tell workers what they should do, what they should think, and how they should behave that has always been purveyed by those within the elite, the Church above all.

In fact, where the EDL did try to take advantage of the situation and entered Eltham in London, the local community shunned them. After drinking for most of the day, the EDL ended up in a battle itself with the Police! But, the real answer to these groups trying to use local Workers Defence Squads for their own purpose is to ensure that they are regularised, and set up on a proper footing.
In many parts of the world that is not seen as any big deal. In Switzerland, for instance, there is not a regular army, but a Citizen Militia. In the US, the Constitution, establishes the principle of such a Militia. It sets out the right of all citizens, as part of this Militia, to bear arms to defend their communities.

If it is right, and to be welcomed for armies of workers to go out broom and pan in hand to clean up after the thugs and looters, then it must also be right for similar armies of workers to prevent the thugs and looters doing that damage in the first place, and instead of relying on the Police or the Council banning the thugs of the EDL, it is also the way of local communities preventing them from running rampage too.
It is the basis upon, which ordinary workers can take back control of their estates and communities, and that important part of their lives. It is the way of stopping the kind of anti-social behaviour that led to the death of Fiona Pilington before it can take root.

After all, in Britain, ever citizen is required by Law to perform Jury Service periodically. Is it not then only sensible that a similar responsibility should require them to engage in patrolling and protecting their communities on a rota basis, to prevent the crimes that end up in the Courts, in the first place. The Tories in the Parliamentary debate spoke at length about Responsibilities, so they should then have no objection to enshrining in law, such a responsibility of every able-bodied citizen from taking part in such activity.
Employers currently are obliged to pay the wages of their workers who serve on Jury Service. A law establishing such local Workers Defence Squads, should then also require employers to pay the wages of their workers when they are engaged in such duties, including for training to perform them.

In the meantime, the Labour Movement should learn the lessons of the riots, and of the Defence Squads that were set up. Local Trades Councils, and TRA's, as well as local Labour Parties should begin to establish such Squads throughout the country, and begin to link them together in an organised and democratic structure. Within communities, TRA's and other such organisations need to be broadened out to provide, real, direct democratic control over the community, based on active involvement, as opposed to the sham of bourgeois democracy that only requires them to vote every four or five years, for a Councillor. These local Neighbourhood Committees, can then act to exercise real day to day democratic control over the Defence Squads, ensuring that they are directed to meeting the needs of the community, addressing its concerns, and preventing the fascists, and other such groups from infiltrating, and dominating them for their own political purposes.

The riots have once again shown that workers cannot and should not rely on the bosses' State. We have to take back control of our lives, and exercise that control collectively through our own organisations and activity.

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