Not a lot of peace. Too much ill-will. A good seasonal read needed.

Mark Perryman of Philosophy Football offers his top ten books to buy to make somebody’s Christmas.

Bah! Humbug? Well, not exactly but in a world of not much peace and plenty of ill-will what do you buy for those in your life clinging on to the ideal that the point is to change it? Here’s my top ten, not guaranteed to cheer them up mind.

Inequality and the 1 percentDanny Dorling’s Inequality and the 1% reveals in graphic prose the modern day wealth of the super-rich, the ‘1%’ who shape levels of inequality today straight out of a Dickensian novel of Christmas past.

The Best of Benn is the perfect book to end the year in which we lost one of the towering political figures of the last three decades, Tony Benn. Along with his foe, Thatcher, Benn acquired an ‘ism’ and this posthumous collection brilliantly shows just why he was of such enduring significance, held in great affection by many while being hated and pilloried by the establishment including the leadership of his own party, Labour.

The most inspirational popular movement of 2014? In my book (sic) Scotland’s Yes Campaign, and more particularly the Radical Independence Campaign. The politics of hope and vision versus Project Fear and Unionist Labour defending the status quo. Alasdair Gray’s poetic Independence is a splendid short book to set out the case for an argument that doesn’t show one bit of going away. The SNP’s membership quadrupled since the Referendum, The Radical Independence Campaign born again with 3,000 in attendance at their recent conference, and this is what being on the losing side is supposed to look like?

REVOLUTIONThe worst-written reviews I’ve read all year have been those the ‘quality press’ commissioned of Russell Brand’s mostly excellent Revolution. Almost without exception the reviewers were long-standing and middle-aged members of the commentariat, Nick Cohen, David Aaronovitch, Craig Brown and the rest. All proved themselves entirely incapable of recognising that the world of politics they feast on, the Westminster bubble, has become entirely disconnected from ,and unrepresentative of, the generation Russell addresses and engages with. No he doesn’t get everything right but he writes and acts in a way these commentators and their cosy world of self-satisfaction could do with learning a lesson or two from. Except, as their reviews proved, they can’t see through their own fog of smug.

Russell is a kind of punk politician, for those of us of a certain age the antecedents are there to be seen and celebrated. Randal Doane’s Stealing All Transmissions in that regard couldn’t be more timely. Instead of yet another biography of The Clash, Randal gets to grips with their cultural and political legacy via a decent dose of Gramsci. This is a cultural politics of dissent for the 21st century, mixing interpretation and insurrection . More of that please in 2015.

How to Think about ExerciseRegular readers of my reviews round-ups won’t be surprised that I’ve included a sports, cookery and children’s’ title in my seasonal top ten. Because all three are vital to any remaking of the narrow, inward-looking space the ‘political’ too often threatens to become. How To Think About Exercise by Damon Young sets out a philosophy of sport which is centred on active participation and physical pleasure rather than the passive-consumerism of fandom. Crucially Damon links the rewards provided to the mental not just the physical, a fresh and vibrant way of rethinking the meaning of sport. Food as an activity, eating and cooking, if the Christmastime best-seller lists are anything to go by, provides more pleasure today than just about any other aspect of popular culture. David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl’s Green Kitchen Travels is a book rich in deliciousness before you even get round to trying out the recipes. It is wrapped in an internationalism and environmentalism that hardly needs to speak its name because both are such a natural part of David and Luise’s project. Pushkin Press publish wonderful children’s books, great pan-European writing and beautifully packaged. Their ‘Save the Story’ series gets contemporary writers to reinterpret classic tales. My favourite from their latest batch of titles in this series is Umberto Eco’s version of The Betrothed, an ancient Italian story for children retold by one of the most imaginative of Italy’s modern writers.

For a decent novel for the grown-ups I recommend James Ellroy’s latest. His chronicles of JFK-era America are an absolute pleasure to read. Hugely informative yet compulsively thrilling. This is a politicised fiction at its best and of a sort, with the exception of the equally splendid Christopher Brookmyre, GB is largely yet to produce. Perfida is Ellroy’s 2014 blockbuster, taking in 1941, the USA on the brink of entering World War Two, race hate aimed at Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbour and as always with Ellroy, deep-seated political intrigue and insight.

101 DamnationsAnd my personal choice of a number one Christmas read? Ned Boulting is a rare kind of sports commentator, his reports from Le Tour are funny and self-knowing yet provide context too, historical and cultural, to the greatest race on Earth. And what makes Ned even more unusual is he writes every bit as well as he presents in front of a camera. His book on the 2014 Tour de France 101 Damnations of course begins in Yorkshire and those two unforgettable days when a world class sporting event travelled from Leeds via Harrogate and York to Sheffield via every village and town along the way. Local yet global, free to watch, no expensive infrastructure built unlikely to be ever used afterwards, a street festival with bikes, hundreds of thousands cycling to their vantage point. Ned catches all of this superbly and thats just the first couple of days. A joy to read both for the memories and a vision of what sport could be minus the commercial overdrive and corrupt governance. Happy reading!

No links in this review to Amazon, if you can avoid purchasing from the tax-dodgers please do so.

Mark Perryman is the co-founder of the self styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’ aka Philosophy Football

Russell Brand reflects on his latest appearance on BBC Question Time

Question TimeBy Russell Brand

I’ve just got home from recording bbc tv’s political debate show Question Time and if you saw it and found it anti-climactic, I know how you feel.

Nigel Farage in the flesh, gin blossomed flesh that it is, inspires sympathy more than fear, an end of the pier, end of the road, end of days politician, who like many people who drink too much has a certain sloppy sadness. Camilla Cavendish who I was sat next to, seemed kindly and the two politicians from opposing parties, that flanked Dimbleby melted into an indistinguishable potage of cautious wonk words before I could properly learn which was blue and which was red. For my part I sat politely on my hands, keen to avoid hollering obscenities after a week of hypocrisy accusations and half-arsed, front page controversy.

Only the audience inspire passion or connection. Humanity. The usual preposterous jumble that you see in any of our towns, even if groomed and prepped by Auntie, they comparatively throb with authenticity opposite us, across the shark-eyed bank of cumbersome cameras.

The panelists have been together in “the green room” chatting, like before any TV show, and that’s what QT is, a TV show, a timid and tepid debate where the topics and dynamism of the discussion are as wooden and flat as the table we gamely sit around.

There is a practice question prior to the record, so the cameras can position and mics can be checked and the audience can practice harrumphing. In my dressing room at the modern Kentish theatre, before my sticky descent, I can hear them being prepped “ask questions, quarrel, applaud, keep those hands up”.

The practice question is a soft ball rhubarb toss about clumping kids or something and even though I’m determined to concentrate like a grown up, my mind drifts back to the Canterbury Food Bank I visited before arriving, partly to learn about it, as a researcher told me there might be question on them and first hand knowledge would make me look good, and partly because, y’know, I actually care.

In a warehouse in a retail park Christians and sixth formers assemble bags of what would rightly be considered “staples” in a kinder world. Tins of food and packets of biscuits and it’s good that we’re near to the “White Cliffs of Dover” because it feels like there’s a war on and the livid coloured packaging goes sepia in my mind as Dame Vera scores the melancholy scene.

The Christians are as Christians are, kind and optimistic. The donations come from ordinary local folk “We get more from the poorer people” says Martin, a quick deputy in a cuddly jumper. “More from Asda shoppers than Waitrose.” As I contemplate cancelling my Ocado (or whatever the fuck it’s called) order Chrissy, the lady who runs the scheme says that this year people who received packages previously have now donated themselves. Previous recipients often volunteer an all. Here older folk and the students diligently box off the nosh and I determine to give them and their heartening endeavor a shout out on the show and my writhing, nervous gut begins to settle.

Chrissy explains how the Canterbury Food Bank has brought people together, not just those it feeds but those who volunteer. “It seemed like a good way to worship Christ” she says. Martin, who I am starting to gently fall in love with, observes that supermarkets profit from the enterprise as Food Bank campaigns encourage their customers to spend more there. “Do you think there’s an obligation for the state to feed people?” I ask “or room for a bit more Jesus kicking the money lenders out of the temple type stuff?”

They smile.

Many who use their facility are people that work full time and still fall short, others have suffered under “benefit sanctions”. “They’re very quick to cut off people’s benefits these days” says Martin.

“People think that Canterbury is affluent, but all around us are pockets of the hidden hungry”. The hidden hungry. “I’m gonna use that” I tell him as I scarper. He makes a very British joke about charging me as I get in the car and I tell him I nicked some jammy dodgers, and we laugh so that’s alright.

I think about the hidden hungry as I settle into my QT chair and get “mic’d up”. Farage entered to a simultaneous cheer and jeer, they cancel each other out, like bose headphones and leave an eerie silence. David Dimbleby says something about it being panto season and someone in the audience says “oh no it isn’t” and I love him for it, even though I’m pretty sure he was one of the UKip cheerers.

And a pantomime it is, well not so entertaining, no flouncing dames or doleful Buttons or rousing songs, just semi-staged tittle-tattle and bickering. The only worthwhile sentiments, be they raging or insightful come from the audience, across the camera bank. The man who brings up politicians pay rises, the man who demands I stand for parliament (so that he could not vote for me judging from his antipathy), the mad, lovely blue hair woman who swears at everyone, mostly though the woman who says “Why are we talking about immigrants? It’s a side issue, this crisis was caused by financial negligence and the subsequent bail-out”. This piece of rhetoric more valuable than anything I could’ve said, including my pound-shop Enoch Powell gag. More potent than the one thing I regret not saying because time and format did not permit it. That the people have the wisdom, not politicians, that the old paradigm is broken and will not be repaired. That the future is collectivised power. Parliamentary politics is dead, they, it’s denizens, wandering from aye to neigh from Tory to UKip know it’s dead and we know it’s dead. Farage is worse than stagnant, he is a tribute act, he is a nostalgic spasm for a Britain that never was; an infinite cricket green with no one from the colonies to raise the game, grammar schools on every corner and shamed women breastfeeding under giant parasols. The Britain of the future will be born of alliances between ordinary, self-governing people, organised locally, communicating globally. Built on principles that are found in traditions like Christianity; community, altruism, kindness, love.

In the “practice question” Farage says it’s okay to hit children “it’s good for them to be afraid” he said. There is a lot of fear about in our country at the moment and he is certainly benefiting from it. But the Britain I love is unafraid and brave. We have a laugh together, we take care of one another, we love an underdog and we unite to confront bullies. We voluntarily feed the poor when the government won’t do it. These ideas and actions that I saw in the food bank and across the camera bank are where the real power lies and this new power is the answer, no question about it.

GMB postpones strike ballot after victimised workers are reinstated

we win cheers

Marks and Spencer and Wincanton must deal with racist manager and if he has not been dealt with then we will restart our campaign says GMB.

The union has agreed to postpone a consultative ballot on strike action for members employed at Marks and Spencer Distribution Centre in Swindon after the reinstatement of two members who were sacked after they were subject to racist abuse of staff by a manager.

In addition GMB has postponed the protest planned for Friday 12th December outside the Marks and Spencer store in Swindon.

On Monday 1st December, two GMB members of Indian heritage were approached by a white manager employed by Wincanton and falsely accused of talking instead of working. The manager said “I am going to teach you Indian bastards a lesson”. GMB members were then shut in a room, and then escorted from the site. They were then permanently excluded i.e. sacked. One of the sacked and victimised staff is Mr Domingos Dias a GMB shop steward for the site.

The Marks and Spencer Distribution Centre is run by Wincanton on behalf of M&S but the majority of staff are employed through an employment agency called 24-7 Recruitment, but given contracts by another company called Tempay Ltd. Workers employed through Tempay earn the minimum wage of £6.50 per hour compared to the £8.50 per hour paid to workers doing exactly the same job but employed directly through Wincanton. There have been several GMB protests about how members are treated on site.

Carole Vallelly, GMB Regional Officer, said, “It is fantastic news that Wincanton have retracted the disgraceful sacking of two GMB members after a racist manager called them ‘Indian bastards’. GMB will not tolerate racism.

“I held a mass meeting today with members from the evening shift, and they have agreed to postpone the consultative strike ballot and to postpone the planned Friday protest outside Marks and Spencer.

“Our members are delighted that standing strong together has secured this victory. Yesterday there was a 100% solid boycott of the Wincanton christmas lunch on the late shift by GMB members in solidarity with their sacked colleagues.

“However, we do expect that Marks and Spencer and Wincanton will deal with this racist manager. If we find that he has not been dealt with, then we will restart our campaign.”

M&Ssissippi Burning – GMB ballots for strike action against racism

i am a man

GMB is holding a consultative ballot on strike action for members employed at Marks and Spencer Distribution Centre in Swindon over racist abuse of staff by a manager and the subsequent exclusion from the site of two members, one of whom is a GMB shop steward.

In addition on Friday 12th December up to 100 GMB members will protest outside the Marks and Spencer store in Swindon on the issues.

On Monday 1st December, two GMB members of Indian heritage were approached by a white manager employed by Wincanton and falsely accused of talking instead of working. The manager said “I am going to teach you Indian bastards a lesson”. The GMB members were then shut in a room, and then escorted from the site. They have since been permanently excluded, as they are agency workers who don’t work directly for Wincanton, this is the mechanism that Wincanton uses to effectively sack them. One of the victimised staff is Mr Domingos Dias a GMB shop steward for the site. Click to continue reading

Probably the most heartrending phone call you will ever listen to

LBC’s James O’Brien covered the issue of food banks and hunger on his phone-in show this week. One caller left no doubt of the extent of the crisis which this right wing government of two-legged rats has created with its assault on the welfare state and, with it, basic human decency.

Only those who have had their humanity surgically removed could listen to this caller and not be filled with rage.

If this past week, given the publication of the report by the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Hunger and Food Poverty in Britain, given Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s intervention on food poverty, and with Baroness Jenkin’s Marie Antoinette moment, if this is not enough to ensure defeat for the Tory’s at the 2015 general election then we are truly living in a society that is headed over a cliff.

 

The enemy of black people in America is America

Black-Power-GossipNot Russia, not Iran, not Syria or Cuba, not even North Korea. Recent events make the argument that the enemy of black people in America is America itself. What other conclusion can be drawn from the decision of two grand juries in the space of a week not to prosecute police officers responsible for killing unarmed black men under dubious circumstances?

Not only were the parents of Michael Brown – shot seven times by white police officer Darren Wilson in the majority black town of Ferguson, Missouri – denied their right to see Officer Wilson answer for his death in court, they were forced to listen to their son’s character being assassinated in the media.

Similarly the family of Eric Garner, killed by NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo in July after being placed in a chokehold during his arrest in Staten Island for selling illegal cigarettes, have just seen a grand jury determine that no criminal charges should be brought against the officer responsible; this despite the incident being caught on video, with Garner clearly heard repeatedly pleading that he couldn’t breathe.

The facts don’t lie: Michael Brown and Eric Garner were unarmed when they were killed, and in each case a grand jury refused to indict the police officer responsible.

As in the case of Officer Darren Wilson over the killing of Michael Brown, the grand jury decision not to indict Officer Pantaleo over the killing of Eric Garner met with a wave of protest across America. Black leaders such as Al Sharpton have put out a call for the establishment of new civil rights movement. When it comes to race relations America remains stuck in an ugly past, one that renders the claim of it being the land of free eminently hollow.

The original civil rights movement, led by Dr Martin Luther King, has long been the stuff of legend and folklore. The March on Washington, the ‘I Have A Dream’ speech, the footage of civil rights marchers being attacked by racist cops and thugs across the segregated South are part not only of US history but world history, exemplifying a struggle for justice that is universal.

Less familiar is the history of the black power movement in the United States, which ran parallel to the civil rights movement and was committed to a much more radical response to the injustices being endured by the nation’s blacks. It comprised those who believed that a strategy of non-violence and reform of the system would effect no meaningful change.

black-power-pin

Some of the young militant leaders who emerged from the black power movement of the sixties and seventies blazed a trail across America’s political and social landscape. Malcolm X, Kwame Toure (Stokely Carmichael), Huey Newton, Fred Hampton, Bobby Seale, George Jackson, Angela Davis and others gave voice to the indignity, injustice, and despair suffered by an entire community and people. Not for them a call for reform or appeals to liberal America for succour. Instead they called for a revolutionary response with the objective not of reforming the system but bringing it down.

In his Ballot or the Bullet speech in 1964, Malcolm X said, “No, I’m not an American. I’m one of the 22 million Black people who are the victims of Americanisation. One of the 22 million black people who are the victims of democracy, nothing but disguised hypocrisy…I’m speaking as a victim of this American system. And I see America through the eyes of the victim. I don’t see any American dream; I see an American nightmare.”

Kwame Toure (Stokely Carmichael) rose to prominence as a leading activist with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Radicalised as a result of his experiences marching for civil rights in the racist South, he joined the Black Panther Party, becoming a fierce critic of the Vietnam War and drawing links between the oppression suffered by his own people in America and the anti-colonial struggles being waged throughout the developing world. Carmichael travelled extensively, visiting revolutionary leaders in Africa, North Vietnam, Cuba, and China, offering solidarity and receiving the same against what he considered was their common enemy – US imperialism.

He later moved to Africa, where he became an aide to the then Guinean prime minister, Sekou Toure, and a staunch supporter of exiled Ghanian President, Kwame Nkrumah. It was in honour of both men that he changed his name to Kwame Toure. During his African years, Toure was an ardent supporter of the Pan-Africanist movement, a cause he espoused until his death in 1998.

It was Carmichael, as he was known then, who first coined the phrase ‘black power’, explaining it as “a call for black people in this country to unite, to recognise their heritage, to build a sense of community. It is a call for Black people to define their own goals, to lead their own organisations.”

The Black Panther Party was founded by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale in 1966 with the aim of building an organisation to struggle for civil rights and justice. The Panthers devised a Ten-Point Program of demands, designed to deepen raise consciousness within black communities across the United States. Those demands included land, bread, housing, clothing, justice, and equality. However it was the seventh point in their program, demanding an end to police brutality and calling for black people to arm themselves in self defense against the police in their own communities, which succeeding in bringing them to national and international attention.

In his article, ‘In Defense of Self Defense’, written in 1970, Newton revealed the political awareness that made him a threat to the status quo. “Men were not created to obey laws. Laws are created to obey men. They are established by men and should serve men. The laws and rules which officials inflict upon poor people prevent them from functioning harmoniously.”

Further on in the same article, he writes, “Penned up in the ghettos of America, surrounded by his factories and all the physical components of his economic system, we have been made into the ‘wretched of the earth,’ relegated to the position of spectators while the White racists run their international con game on the suffering peoples.”

Newton wrote extensively and was an important thinker, but the Panthers are best known for daring to challenge the police, utilising their constitutional right to bear arms to brandish weapons. This, along with their breakfast clubs and other community programs, earned them the respect and affection of people in poor black communities.

Their growing influence prompted the director of the FBI, J Edgar Hoover, to describe the Panthers as “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country.” Using COINTELPRO, the program devised by the FBI in the sixties to investigate and destroy homegrown dissident groups, the Bureau set about effecting the destruction of the Panthers. The campaign reached its peak in 1969 with the murder of leading Panther, Fred Hampton, in Chicago. The organisation was able to continue, however, and in 1973 Bobby Seale ran for mayor of Oakland, coming in second of nine candidates with 43,170 votes.

George Jackson joined the Black Panther Party while he was in prison. He’d been given a sentence of one year to life for the theft of $70 from a gas station at the age of 18. Jackson was radicalised in prison. A book of his prison letters, ‘Soledad Brother’, was published in 1970 to international acclaim.

He writes, “The new slavery, the modern variety of chattel slavery updated to disguise itself, places the victim in a factory or in the case of most Blacks in support roles inside and around the factory system (service trades), working for a wage. However, if work cannot be found in or around the factory complex, today’s neoslavery does not allow even for a modicum of food and shelter. You are free – to starve.”

Soledad Brother is not so much a compilation of letters as a scream from the bowels of the US justice system. It is a call to action and the assertion by a young man of his humanity in the face of the inhumanity and barbarity suffered by his people. Jackson died in prison in 1971 of gunshot wounds after prison guards fired on prisoners during an uprising in the yard. Allegations that he was purposely assassinated due to his growing influence, both within and beyond the prison walls behind which he was incarcerated, were never satisfactorily refuted in the eyes of his supporters.

Today, within black communities, it must seem that the sixties and seventies never ended. There is a black president in the White House, yes, but recent events suggest that those who believed that Obama’s election heralded a post-racial America were mistaken. As Malcolm X said in response to Martin Luther King being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, “He got the peace prize, we got the problem.”

Though segregation no longer exists de jure in the US, the racism that underpinned it does, with the reality for a disproportionate number of the nation’s black population a future of poverty, alienation, incarceration, and the very real risk of police brutality.

What defined yesterday’s champions of black power was the understanding that the oppression of black people in America was not only a race issue it was also a class issue. Martin Luther King himself arrived at this understanding in the course of the struggle for civil rights, an understand that cannot be denied in the face of any serious analysis of that oppression.

It led to MLK, murdered in 1968, evolving almost out of recognition from the 1964 version. In ’64 he still retained illusions in the status quo, which by ’68 he had all but abandoned, having come to the conclusion that, “The profit motive, when it is the sole basis of an economic system, encourages a cutthroat competition and selfish ambition that inspires men to be more concerned about making a living than making a life.”

This shift in consciousness made him a threat not only to white privilege but to the economic system it rests upon; turning him, incontrovertibly, into an anti capitalist. Consequently, MLK would not have received the Nobel Peace Prize in ’68.

They tend not to give out awards to anti capitalists.