Wages So Low You'll Freak, by Mike Pudd'nhead
Book Review by Chris
I gave this book to a friend as a late Christmas present. “Just read the first chapter,” I said, “then see if you can stop.” By 3am the next day he’d read the whole thing cover to cover in one marathon all-night session.
Wages So Low You’ll Freak deserves to be a small classic. It’s one of the best books I’ve read in ages. It covers radical politics and workplace organising in a way that’s honest, often extremely funny, and is totally relatable for young, early 21st century workers bouncing from one precarious, poorly paid job to the next.
The book is a sprawling, four-year-long, first-person narrative of Mike Wilklow’s attempts to organise a union at Jimmy John’s – a chain sandwich store with about 1,000 outlets throughout the US. At 22, fresh out of college and a recent signup to the Industrial Workers of the World, Wilklow joins his best friend in getting a job at Jimmy John’s and sets to work.
Unlike most conventional unions, the Industrial Workers of the World preaches an ethic of “solidarity unionism.” Rather than aiming exclusively for formal membership and legal bargaining rights, the IWW emphasises collective direct action on the shop floor to build workers’ confidence and win small, concrete improvements, followed by progressively larger actions over more ambitious goals.
Thus within a few months, despite representing only a miniscule fraction of the workforce, Wilklow and his co-workers are already taking action. When someone is arbitrarily fired for phoning in sick, dozens of IWW members call up the store to complain, jamming its phone lines and causing chaos while a handful of workers confront the boss together. When a new store manager takes over and begins sexually harassing staff, workers start a petition and get him fired. And when a supervisor in one shop punches out a union supporter for cutting a sandwich diagonally rather than straight across, every single person in the store stops work and gets that supervisor fired as well. Between 2007-2010, the battle on the shop floor rages back and forth until each of the ten Jimmy John’s stores in Minneapolis – where Wilklow is living and working – have a large number of union supporters in them ready to publicly declare their IWW membership and take on the company on a much larger scale.
There’s so much that I liked about Wages So Low You’ll Freak. For one thing, it’s just a great story. While the emphasis is on Wilklow’s attempts to organise a union, it also reads as something of an autobiography of four years of his life, bouncing around between demeaning minimum wage work, basement punk gigs, hook-ups, breakups, protests, parties, binge drinking, gambling and bike culture. The writing is really sharp and accessible, and the book is consistently entertaining and funny.
Wilklow is also pretty honest about himself and his own flaws. The book opens with a bizarre piece called “Why Happiness?” which he wrote as a 23-year-old, and each chapter includes a short entry from the diary he kept during the campaign. He also does a good job of depicting himself as an inexperienced, often immature early-twentysomething: he stuffs up repeatedly, says the wrong things, does the wrong things, can’t hold relationships together, is stubborn, talks too much, and is constantly hung over. But he has no trouble admitting all of this and is relentlessly self-deprecating.
Probably the most valuable thing about this book, though, is that it’s one of the only accounts of a union organising campaign that I know of which has been written not by an academic or a labour scholar or a paid union organiser, but by an actual participant who was there every day on the shopfloor. Union membership in Australia has plummeted from 56% of the workforce in the mid-1970s to less than 15% today, and the experience and cultural memory of rank-and-file workplace organisation has been almost totally lost. For that reason alone, Wages So Low You’ll Freak is incredibly useful and important: you can learn a lot about how to organise your own workplace just from reading it, not mention gain a lot of confidence about what it’s possible to achieve. In this light, the book’s setting in the unorganised, minimum wage service industry is pretty perfect, and the author solidly emphasises workplace organising that is under the control of workers themselves, without the interference of paid union organisers or bureaucrats.
For all these reasons I think Wages So Low You’ll Freak is a really enjoyable and valuable read. You can order it online from Microcosm Press and copies are also sold here at Jura Books in Sydney.
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Solidarity and direct action win the day!
The back story
Sydney Solidarity Network was contacted by CJ, a worker who was exploited and sexually harassed. She is a traveler on a working holiday visa who started working at a café in Leichhardt in early March. There were problems from the beginning. The boss would continually try to touch her and other women against their will. She was paid only $17 per hour, which is below the Restaurant Award wage ($22.24 on weekdays and $26.69 on weekends, for casuals).
The pay was cash-in-hand, and the boss would always pay late. No contracts were signed and the boss never asked for their tax file numbers. There were other workers who were fired on the spot, with no notice, for no reason. When CJ spoke up, she was taken off the shift roster, with no notice. She decided to quit. She asked the boss to pay her outstanding wages (at $17 per hour): $433.50. He refused, and one of the supervisors slapped the face of CJ’s friend who was there to support her. The cops were called but they didn’t help CJ, but instead told her to come back a few days later as the boss requested. When she came back the boss only paid her $200 and withheld the rest ‘for damages to property’ – a completely fictitious claim.
So CJ contacted SydSol and asked for help to get back her stolen wages. Together, CJ and SydSol demanded that the boss pay CJ the full $1,108.70 she was owed – which would bring her wages up to the award minimum for the hours she worked.
Exploitative, violent, disrespectful, and sexist behaviour by bosses, supervisors and cops is all too common – in the hospitality industry and elsewhere. But in this case, the workers decided to stand up and say “NO!”
Sydney Solidarity Network takes action
Over a two week period, SydSol organised 3 actions at the café. The actions were lively and energetic, with chanting, singing, banners, placards and leaflets. Between 20 and 40 SydSol supporters came to each action. During the actions they gave out almost 1,000 leaflets to passersby, telling CJ’s story. They had lots of conversations and caused much discussion on the busy Leichhardt street! Most passersby were very supportive. Each action lasted for around 2 hours, during which time almost no customers went to the café.
At first the boss refused to pay. He started off trying to ignore the actions, but soon found that didn’t work. He then became more antagonistic, publishing defamatory messages about the ex-worker, throwing buckets of water at the protestors and threatening to break someone’s arm! The boss called the police a number of times, but no arrests were made. He even hired musicians to try to drown out the chanting! But SydSol kept going!
After the third action the boss paid the full amount owed to CJ. Victory! As part of the settlement, SydSol participants agreed to remove the name of the café from their website and social media posts.
CJ was overjoyed and even decided to donate part of the money she was paid to Grandmothers Against Removals, and an activist legal fund, to spread the solidarity!
Another worker from the same café also quit during the period SydSol was taking action, because of similar issues with her employment. However that worker told SydSol that, to her surprise, the boss paid her what she was owed – almost certainly because of the actions!
This was a great campaign, which resulted in a real victory for workers. SydSol came together as a solidarity network and strengthened their organisation and their ability to take action. They showed the power of direct action – action taken by oppressed people ourselves, on our own terms, and in our own interests.
Sydney Solidarity Network continues – but they need you!
Sign up to their supporters email list, to get updates and action alerts: http://eepurl.com/UGQev and get your friends to sign up too!
Head along to their meeting/picnic at 3pm on Saturday 14th May in Camperdown Park, followed by celebratory drinks from 5pm at the Courthouse Hotel in Newtown. (In case of poor weather, they'll be in the Courthouse Hotel from 3pm.) They need more people to get involved in the SydSol organising group!
Share this story on social media and tell your friends about it!
SydSol also asks you to think about any issues in your own life, and the lives of your friends and families, to identify the problems in your workplace and your community. Problems which can be changed through direct action – like underpayments, bullying, landlords refusing to do repairs, or real estate agents evicting you without reason. And get in touch about taking action together to fix these problems!
I did work for the dole at various places around Darwin a few years back: Vinnies, Larrakia Nation office (the Larrakia are the traditional owners of the Darwin area), and at the Aviation Heritage Centre. I had arranged to work at some other place I can't remember the name of (I think it was a housing co-op) but that fell through. I was angry about being made to do slave labour. I wanted to protest and resist it but I was on a good behaviour bond with a suspended jail sentence for political activity hanging over me at the time. I was luckier than other people, even though I certainly didn't feel lucky! I only ever had to do 1 day a week. Others were made to do more: 2 days, or maybe even 4! They sure seemed to come down harder on the young, and on those who complained about having to do it. At Vinnies I knew the person in charge from activist circles I'd worked in. Gave us breakfast with the long grassers (homeless people). This person was pretty cool and had us painting a pergola. I think she let us go home early and ticked off our names as if we'd worked the whole day.
Larrakia Nation was pretty slack. Once we mowed the grass in the bushtucker garden at the back of Royal Darwin Hospital. Another time wewere clearing infestations of the mimosa pigra weed along the banks of Rapid Creek near the university. I pretended I didn't know how to use the whippersnipper or brushcutter or whatever it was so I ended up just collecting the pieces the other guys cut down. As Larrakia rangers they were getting paid something like a proper wage, I believe. CDEP (Community Development Employment Program) pay plus topup.
I remember doing a bit of work in the garden at the Larrakia Nation office on a couple of days, and shovelling up dirt in the car park atthe back another day. But a lot of the time we didn't have to work there as it was badly organised. We'd sit around talking for hours, waiting for someone in authority to tell us to do something. Those in charge never knew how many people who were supposed to be there for WftD would actually turn up. There might be 18 names on the list, but6 or 7 would turn up. Or maybe 1 or none. A few times I showed up there to find I was the only one. Some guy told me, "You always turn up. But no-one else is here. So I'll just tick your name off and you can go." The Aviation Heritage Centre was a museum featuring a B-52 bomber fromthe USA, surrounded by many smaller aircraft and artifacts going backto WWII and earlier. I used to enjoy reading the info and learning history while dusting and polishing the planes and things and sweeping the floor.
There were also 2 Aboriginal women and a tall Sudanese man doing WftD there. The woman from WA said the WftD was demeaning. There was nothing much we could do about it though.
One day I wore an old t-shirt a friend had given me. He'd sprayed ANARCHY NOW on the back in red. I thought the writing had faded and was hardly visible any more. Unfortunately it was visible and the boss noticed it even though he couldn't make out what it said. He marchedup to me and said, "You're not working inside with that on your shirt! What's it say? Wanker? Go outside and sweep the leaves out of the bigcarpark out the front!" (I thought, "There's only one wanker aroundhere, mate, and it's not me!") But I didn't say that. I said, "I'm not going back outside unless I get some sunscreen to put on. (Because I'd got a bit sunburnt from working out there before.) Boss man stormed off in a huff.
One time he made me stay back late and help lift a heavy bbq into a dumpster. I hurt my back doing that. The following week I forked out $27 to see a doctor who thought I was faking back pain. (Good luck getting bulk billing in Darwin! They made you feel like a criminal just for asking.) Just so I didn't have to do slavery that week. I hated it. Had to do it another week instead.
That boss was a prick. He'd sit upstairs bludging in his air-conditioned office while the rest of us, paid staff and slaves alike, soldiered on in the heat and humidity. Once during a break he bragged to us how he'd bought a car, an old bomb, in Darwin for a few hundred bucks, and had it shipped over to East Timor where he sold it to a Timorese guy for $3000.
After I left I heard from my friend who still worked there in the shop and doing the guided tours, that they caught that boss with his handin the till. The board sacked him but didn't press charges. I think I had to do WftD for 6 months, 1 day a week. Centrelink bureaucrats surprised me at one stage. They told me I didn't have to do any more of it. I thought they were mistaken but I didn't argue! Later they discovered their mistake and I had to go and work the remaining couple of days.
All in all it was a shitty experience being a slave. I'd always thought that if I were ever told to do Work for the Dole I'd refuse, find a way out of it somehow. But when it happened I couldn't get out of it. Not that I had the worst of it. A lot of people copped it a lot worse than me. Aboriginal people particularly.
I heard of people in remote communities like Kalkaringi being made to do 30 hours a week work for the dole and on top of that getting punished with income management as well. If they refused this slavery they'd get no money. The government wouldn't dare try that on in a place like Sydney. They seem to use the NT as a sort of social laboratory and Aboriginal people as guinea pigs, to see how much abuse of people's human rights they can get away with.
In conclusion I can sum up my limited experience by saying that Workfor the Dole is really about more than work. It's about power and control. It's rich bastard governments punishing people whoare unemployed. It's class warfare, and race warfare. If people are doing that work they're not unemployed and should at least be paid award wages like everyone else. Anything less is bullshit.
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Summer holidays called for a little light reading and thinking. I've recently finished my tenth read of Ursula Le Guin's The Dispossessed. Crazy you might think, but I find it endlessly fascinating for the global craft-work, deep thought, and fine word-smithing that forms the composition of this exceptional book - the best utopian classic of the C20th - maybe of all time. The book contrasts two societies, one on Urras 'Earth' and one on Anarres, its habitable moon. A revolution had occurred on Urras some generations earlier, with a resulting peace treaty that sent the revolutionaries to Anarres to build their anarchist society. The story is of Shevek, an Anarresti who goes to Urras to further develop his theories in Physics, the first Anarresti to 'return' in 200 years. Thus the book is a series of contrasting, alternating chapters, one on anarchist Anarres and then one on authoritarian Urras. Neither world is perfect, even in their own terms, but it is the exploration of these internal complexities and external contrasts that forms the rich loam of ideas that Le Guin explores. These areas range from individualism & collectivism, to sexuality, government & governance, economics & consumerism to ecology and parenting - among many other critically important areas of human activity. Well worth another read in a year or three! I'll still find something new to think about - the things are that make us human, and to explore the struggle to be human.
Now, while also finishing scott crow's Black Flags and Windmills: Anarchy, Hope and the Common Ground Collective (reviewed a few weeks ago here), I realised how similar the two books were in so many ways (Black Flags and The Dispossessed). Both have a protagonist searching for meaning in life, truth (but without the capital 'T'), and struggling against the tide. In scott crow's case, it is literally the giant tide caused by the flooding of New Orleans by hurricane Katrina in 2005, as well as against the human tides of racism, sexism, governmental chaos and ineptitude, and exhaustion and struggle in helping thousands of abandoned people. Of course, the fundamental similarity between the two 'stories' is that of the anarchist approach in fighting the authoritarianism of the various States and statist ideas. Both books are fundamentally about building anarchist structures of self-help and community as against greed, exploitation and domination. In many ways, the story of building the Common Ground Collective in New Orleans is so like the struggle to build the anarchist society of Anarres.
Both are immensely inspiring books.AnarchismAnti-racismEnviroFeminismRevolutionThe State
Black Flags and Windmills: Hope, Anarchy, and the Common Ground Collective, by scott crow. $26
I'm still reading this and having trouble putting it down. It's about an anarchist who worked with the poor black people of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina flooded the city in 2005. A collective (The Common Ground Collective) of mostly middle class whites, about 23,000 volunteers, came together to help rebuild the black neighbourhoods when the authorities abandoned them: a society without the State developed (well, yes, but with only a little exaggeration). This is a personal story of scott crow (no upper case) and his journey into anarchism and anarchist activism, as well as the story of the people of New Orleans and the Collective. In the book, crow uses the term 'emergency heart love', which sort of coincides with Chomksy's use of the term 'expanding the floor of the cage'. The author talks about his major influences: anarchism from the Spanish Revolution, the Black Panther Party, and the Zapatistas.
While I can understand the references to the Spanish Revolution and the Zapatistas, the reference to the Black Panthers and their often sexist behaviour goes without critique, as does their sometime fascination with Nechaev's authoritarianism. What he does get from them is their dedication to mixing it with the poor, gaining their trust by meeting their practical needs (education, health etc). There's a lot of 'philosophy confronting reality' throughout the book, and achieved in a very easily digestible way. It's really great, but what I don't get, despite the reference to 30's Spain, is the lack of dealing with the larger organisational questions that anarcho-syndicalism answers. Well, there's still a bit to go in my reading of the book, so maybe all will be revealed! Just a note, I'm reading the first edition, but the updated second is at Jura, too.
Imperiled Life: Revolution Against Climate Catastrophe, by Javier Sethness-Castro. $19
Well, where do I start? This is a book that will be liked by all the anarchists who still have an inclination towards Marx or marxism - of what is sometimes considered the less authoritarian sort. I don't hold that there is such a beast, but others do. In the case of this author, he constantly refers to the Frankfurt School people, Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse, as well as Marx, Gramsci. The odd thing is that, in the end, he advocates a sort of anarcho-communism, so he also occasionally makes mention of Chomsky or Bookchin. How one gets from Marx to anarcho-communism via Adorno beats me, but maybe others can see something that I can't. However, on the brighter side, the author does put a good case about the unfolding climate catastrophe and the need for urgent action. He also provides a good, if too brief, critique of liberal campaigners for climate sense.
Government in the Future, by Noam Chomsky. $15
This is a great little book for someone who wants to know what Uncle Noam says about better ways to organise society, and the basic thoughts that underpin those ideas. So there's a bit of philosophy in there, but not too much for the novice. For the more advanced, the book gives a good road map towards several foundation thinkers and some practical examples of what actual people actually did strive to achieve. The references to Marx still puzzle me a bit, but I think Chomsky talks more about what Marx wished for an end point of a revolutionary process. Unfortunately, Marx always confused means and ends, and could never get rid of his Statist/authoritatian methods to achieve the liberatory ends. The book is more of a pamphlet, and is presented in a lecture style, as it was originally given as a lecture, so that's no surprise. However, it is an easy read.
Adbusters: Manifesto for World Revolution, by Adbusters Foundation. $12
This is a beautifully produced magazine that I find enthralling in its poetic, imaginative use of imagery. Visually stimulating and often very confronting, but so wonderfully done - amazing, really. Like the image of a naked woman lying on her side, cuddled up to a.....pregnant man. What startling imagery....makes one think. Now, I do have some reservations about the politics of the Adbusters crew, no matter how much I do admire their work. There is still that troubling 'ephemeral anarchism' about them...so it's fine to have a critique, and it's fine to promote, in fact, initiate Occupy Wall Street, but where is the organisational structure/mechanism to get us from 'here', which they so well describe and critique, to 'there', a society in revolutionary transformation? Still, I always take a look and have a read - well worth the visit.
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At a meeting on 14th June 2015 at Jura, delegates from four anarchist groups agreed to form a provisional Anarchist Federation Australia. The four founding groups were Jura Books, the Melbourne Anarchist Club, the Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group and Perth Libertarians. At the meeting a number of individual observers were also present as well as an observer from Black Rose and Black Flag. The provisional Federation is based on this constitution. However the constitution is still being discussed, and changes may be made at the first Congress of the Federation - tentatively scheduled for December 2015 in Melbourne. As well as being geographically diverse, the groups making up the federation have a range of political differences, but we hope to work together cooperatively to spread anarchist ideas in Australia. Other anarchist groups are welcome to join us.
To give some background and context, here is a summary of the current federation process, to the best of our knowledge. It’s based on a few different accounts, leading up to May 2015.
In 2007, some members of the Mutiny Collective called for expressions of interest in holding a conference to discuss the idea of an anarchist federation in Australia and/or NZ. In response to this initiative, the Melbourne Anarchist Club (MAC) organised a conference held during Easter 2008. About 60 people from across Australia attended and a broad range of views were expressed from opposition to enthusiasm. There were no delegates as such and each participant attended as an individual. While there were some differences in attitude to federation there was a significant amount of common ground. Following on from this, MAC decided in March 2013 to hold the Towards Federation Anarchist Conference in June 2013. It was proposed to invite groups (as opposed to individuals, although individuals were encouraged to attend as observers). A proposed constitution was presented for discussion and about 30 people attended including delegates from MAC, Libertarian Workers for a Self-managed Society (LWSS), and Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group (MACG). There were also observers from Anarchist Affinity and Jura. In January 2014, a follow up conference was held at Jura at which delegates from MAC, MACG and Jura attended (and an observer from a Canberra anarchist group). The draft constitution was discussed and suggestions for amending it were made. People from Jura agreed to do another re-draft of the proposed constitution.
In May 2015, Jura completed a re-draft of the constitution, which was then circulated. There was also an open discussion about federation as part of one of the workshops at the Sydney Anarchist Bookfair, on Saturday 13th June 2015.
Over the last few years, there has also been a fair bit of online discussion about the federation, for example on Libcom and Facebook.
We also intend for the federation to develop a ‘Statement of Shared Positions’ and a program of activities/projects, in the near future, which will give it more form and substance.
Groups that have been contacted about the federation at some point since March 2013:
- Anarchist Affinity (Melbourne) - Declined to send a delegate but did send an observer to the 2013 conference, a statement was made stating that while Anarchist Affinity supported the idea in principle, they were not ready to proceed and indicated that they would take no further part at this stage.
- BAG (Brisbane) - Agreed to proceed on the basis of the proposed constitution in April 2013. Subsequently re-affirmed in January 2014.
- Black Flag (Western Sydney) - Contacted in person by Jura people in 2015. Current position on the federation unknown.
- Black Rose (Sydney) - Was initially contacted through what came to be discovered a defunct email account. Was contacted again in person by Jura people in 2014. Held a meeting to discuss the federation. Current position on the federation unknown.
- Black Swan (Adelaide) - Has been sent the proposed constitution but no follow-up to date. Current position on the federation unknown.
- Brisbane Solidarity Network - Has been sent the proposed constitution but no follow-up to date. Current position on the federation unknown.
- Byron Bay Anarchists - Requested a copy of proposed constitution in 2014 but no response since. MAC unable to independently confirm the existence of the group.
- Grupo de Melbourne - This is a group of the remaining Spanish exiles. A member came to MAC to express disappointment that they had not been invited to participate. Subsequently sent the January 2014 version of the proposed constitution by MAC. Discussed the proposed constitution over a weekend in May 2014 to develop a submission. Currently awaiting an English translation.
- Jura (Sydney) - Had an observer participate in the June 2013 conference and hosted the January 2014 conference at which the proposed constitution was discussed. Discussed, amended and agreed on the May 2015 draft of the constitution. Hosted the meeting on 14th June 2015, at which two Jura delegates attended, and it was agreed that the provisional Anarchist Federation Australia be formed.
- Libertarian Workers for a Self-managed Society (Melbourne) - LWSS sent a submission and a delegate to June 2013 conference. Some of the LWSS submission was incorporated into the current proposed constitution. Since then, there has been no follow-up contact with LWSS. Current position on the federation unknown.
- Melbourne Anarchist Club - Initiators of the current project to found an anarchist federation. Two MAC delegates attended the meeting on 14th June 2015 at Jura, where it was agreed to form the provisional Anarchist Federation Australia.
- Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group - Sent two delegates to June 2013 Conference and January 2014 conference. The MACG have expressed support and a desire to have the principles of 'the platform' incorporated into the constitution. Has participated in two joint meetings with the MAC to discuss the proposed constitution and have proposed some additions and modifications which were incorporated into the proposed constitution that was presented to the January 2014 conference. One MACG delegate attended the meeting on 14th June 2015 at Jura, where it was agreed to form the provisional Anarchist Federation Australia.
- Perth Libertarians - A meeting of of anarchists in Perth was held on 12 September 2014 and a decision was made to form a group with a view to federating in accordance with the proposed constitution (Jan 2014 version). One Perth Libertarians delegate attended the meeting on 14th June 2015 at Jura, where it was agreed to form the provisional Anarchist Federation Australia.
AnarchismAnarchist communismAnti-racismAutonomismDisability rightsEnviroFeminismIndigenousLibertarian socialismQueerSocialismSyndicalismJura BooksJura HistoryOrganising SpaceResourcesCommunityDecision makingRevolutionWorkers control
On April 4th, a couple of weeks ago, I attended the counter-rally to Reclaim Australia (RA). For those that don't know what RA is all about it comes down to fear-mongering and bigotry. They oppose the take-over or "Islamification" of Australia by Muslims, they want Halal certification banned, and want Islam banned from being taught in schools, amongst other narrow-minded, and fear based demands. They don't let facts get in the way of good-olde scapegoating, and would rather still up xenophobic sentiments instead of realising Muslims compose only 2.2% of Australia's population. If this is a taking over Australian culture, I'm not exactly sure what Australia they are living in.
In anycase, I attended the counter-rally, organised by some Lefty organisation, alongside a bunch of other anarchist, about 25-30 many of whom formed part of ANTIFA. We congregated at the George St end of Martin place from 10am onwards, and watch many people walk to the meeting point of the RA rally in a center square of Martin Place. It was hard to tell who was part of RA and who was an ordinary citizen as individuals, couples, or small groups walked pass us, but there were some that made it obvious where they intended to be. These people had Australian flags draped over their backs, or Australian flag hats, or shirts, or handheld Australian flags. I don't like to make assumptions, but I'm pretty sure these people were heading to the RA rally.
There were some people, however, that didn't need an Australia flag for us to know where they were going, they were notorious enough to be recognised on appearance. The first was Ross "The Skull" May, a self-proclaimed neo-Nazi, known for, back in the 70s, his anti-sementic aggressions; his assault of any opposition, for which he served repeated jail time; and general racist behaviour, all while dressed in Nazi regalia. It seems he'd smartened up in his older age, as for this rally he wasn't wearing any Nazi insignia, but even as late as 2013 he still clings to his outdated neo-Nazi beliefs saying that he's proud to be a neo-Nazi in this day and age. For the rally he wasn't traveling solo, but was surrounded by 5-6 well-built middle aged men, and as he walked pass the group of us he threw a few Seig Heils our way. We responded with a barrage of mockery.
Later, his neo-Nazi buddy Jim Salem passed our way. Back in the 70s he ran around with The Skull wearing Nazi regalia, promoting his racist and fascist ideology. Not surprisingly he was also jailed for assault and fraud, both of which he claims to be innocent of. Currently, he is leader of Australia First (NSW) and holds a doctorate based upon his thesis of right-winged radicalism. Unlike Ross, Jim was alone, but that didn't prevent him from hurling threats at us anarchists, claiming he knows where we all live. It's hard to say whether or not these characters will have any sway amongst the RA crowd, there is hope that they don't, but there are probably a least a few who will be swayed by whatever backwards, fear drenched argument they can muster.
In anycase, the RA crowd was composed of some neo-Nazi's. If the RA beliefs are not enough to be concerned about, then the mingling of people who hold these beliefs with some neo-Nazi's should make one alarmed. However, as I looked upon the crowd from the distance through the lines of police I could see an Aboriginal flag, and even a Jewish flag, both of which would offend Jim and Ross. Perhaps, there's enough memory of Nazism, to prevent any spread of it, however, the spread of bigotry and racism, doesn't need neo-Nazism and seems to be moving along fine with RA.
Not long after the RA started we decide to go to the actual counter rally that was held a few blocks away from Martin Place, where noone from any of the rallies could hear or even see each other and therefore have no effect whatsoever on each other. We got there at the tail end of the speakers, and, to my surprise, the organiser of the counter-rally put to vote whether we wanted to march to Martin Place or not. It was a resounding yes. However, as soon as we started to move the cops closed in a tight line, preventing us from moving down Phillip St. That didn't perturb us, the entire crowd quickly turned around and started to march down Macquarie St, much to the chagrin of the police, many of whom bolt ahead of us.
By the time I got to the top-end of Martin Place a line of police had formed, not just foot-soldiers, but police on horseback and beyond the line I saw a protesters being pushed and dragged back beyond the police line. They must've made it up there before the majority of the police formed the line. There was a few attempts to break through the line, but it was met with brute force by the police. It was before this line of police that we started to chant various phrases to vocalise our displeasure with the likes of RA, and it was also before this line that it started to rain.
So, there we stood, in the rain, chanting in front of the police, intentions set on the RA rally. I'm not sure if they heard us, or even saw us, there was a few more lines of police closer to the RA rally. I walked along the line, taking some photos, wondering why the foot-soldiers had no wet whether gear, how much they were getting paid to on this holiday Saturday, and where they'd rather be than in the rain, protecting a bunch of bigots from some lefties.
This seemed to be the climax of the counter rally. After this most of the attendants made their way back to the spot of the speakers, and mulled around a bit under cover, cops watchful and standing in the rain. Eventually most people left, while a bunch of ANTIFA discussed a strategy to confront RA via Martin Place. After a bit of discuss we broke off in groups, and caught a train to Martin Place, however, by the time we got there the RA had dispersed though I'm sure I saw many making their way down the escalators to catch a train, who gave us a curious stare.
In the end there was no direct confrontation with any of the RA rally attendants on the cold, rainy day, but there were many confrontations with police. For this final strategy, they shooed us away from the RA rally site, down Phillip St, and continued to follow us for a few blocks until we got to Georgy St. It was about this time that I decided to part ways from the small group that was continually being pushed away from the Martin Place area by police. I'm not exactly sure by what legal authority they could do that, they claimed a "move on order" or something of the like as we were a danger to public peace. In anycase, I moved on by my own volition back to the train station and home.
It wasn't an uneventful event, but it wasn't exactly climatic. I'm not sure what I was expecting, nor am I sure of what tactics could've been used. The ANTIFA crew seemed to have a few alternative ideas as to what to do, and how to approach it, but it the long run I'm curious what strategies can be used to not only confront this bigoted culture head-on, but also how to inspire change so the ANTIFA wouldn't be required to start with. That, however, sounds like a long term goal.Anti-racismCommunity