Archive | June, 2013

Why Tenant Blacklisting Is A Recipe For Abuse

30 Jun

Their “motto” is a bit fash to say the least … as someone whose struggling to find a property to rent this shit makes me sick

the void

rigsby-routledgeThe Landlord Referencing Service (LRS) run by Paul Routledge reveals just how far out of control landlords in the private rental sector have become in the UK.

Not content with soaring rents and one of the least regulated private rental sectors in Europe, now some money grabbing landlords want to further line their pockets by using the threat of blacklisting to increase their power over tenants.

Paul Routledge (@Paul_Rout) claims he began the blacklisting service after being seriously injured by a former tenant.  This has led him to embark, vigilante style, on a war on all tenants by investing a large amount of his own money on a website where landlords can name and shame tenants amongst themselves.  Routledge’s ambitions were not just financial – the stated aim of this blacklist is to install landlords as the ‘Gatekeepers of the Community’.  The community was not asked what they…

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Pop-up shops and the decay of social provisions

30 Jun

As if you didn’t need another reason to hate hipsters . Especially the London hipsters.

The decomposition of social provision is being given a “trendy” spin by the new trend of “pop-up” shops in London which take over disused buildings for a very short period after established shops and social provisions have closed down. According to the article:

Recessions don’t usually create distinctive new spaces. The “new” capital skyline now under construction is mostly made up of buildings shelved during the first phase of the Great Recession, and at this rate London as it “should” have been in 2010 won’t be finished for some years yet – something even more true of the cancelled skyscrapers of Leeds or Manchester.

Yet there is one obvious offspring of the collapse of the old model: the pop-up. The japery of the term – oh, look, what used to be a wasteland has now got an organic hot dog company on it! – makes clear the sort of thing we’re dealing with, part of the mental regression of a generation elsewhere bent on reviving cupcakes. Pop-ups are fun! A railway yard with boutique shops! A “shopping village” on a council estate! An arthouse cinema in an abandoned petrol station! A burger bar in an Asian women’s advice centre! (The last of these, recently opened in Hackney as “The Advisory”, is surely one of the most offensive: the decay of social provision given a fun, ironic spin.)

Pop-ups, which in the UK are tellingly mostly London-based, purport to be an example of doing things differently. Rather than another chain store, luxury apartment block or more trading floors, a pop-up scheme will, in theory, produce some kind of a social space – a cinema or a gallery, usually more esoteric than the average restaurant or bar.

Some of these are functions that would once have been taken on through squatting – and sometimes still are, as at Open House, a social centre recently and precariously opened in London’s Elephant & Castle, an area torn apart by rampant gentrification, where estates are flogged off to developers with zero commitment to public housing and the aforementioned “shopping village” is located in a derelict estate. In this bitterly contested environment, Open House has been genuinely trying to resist this process and think of non-temporary alternatives to the current malaise – but unlike a pop-up vintage clothes shop, it’s unlikely it would have received planning permission.

Unlike squats, which aim to hold on to spaces for as long as possible, pop-ups are, by their very definition, temporary. They’re urban placeholders, there to fill the space until the market picks up – which in London is starting to occur in the most terrifying, nothing-has-been-learned way, discounting the idea that pop-ups have a tangible, permanent effect.

Rather than the Great Recession appearing as a series of gaping, rotting scars in the urban fabric, which would at least have the virtue of honesty, it is creating a series of spatial gap years, where people have a bit of fun and learn a few skills which they can eventually put to more usual profit-making service.

I have some thoughts on this. One of them is that for some people this casualisation of business might be a way to try and get around business rates etc if they don’t have enough start-up capital to succeed, so casualisation might be affecting the small business owning classes and the aspiring small business owners in the same way that it is affecting temporary workers, tenants and all other aspects of society. Of course it means that anyone who works for them is in an even more precarious position than they are, and anecdotal evidence suggests that a lot of these shops are using “volunteers” from the job centre or people can afford to work for free anyway.

However, for a lot of them they DO have enough capital to start a proper business should they wish to and this “pop up” business is a way of them testing the water – of course it also has the effect of increasing gentrification, pricing people out of their own areas in the same time as making a load of hipsters think about how ironic and cool the whole thing is. A lot of people see no problem with gentrification … as long as they can afford what these shops are selling. What did that Palestinian carpenter say. “Man cannot live on cupcakes, chorizo and cranberry flatbreads and organic soaps alone”. It’s great if youve got money to spend, not so much if you’re on the dole or trying to feed your family.

ICC meeting on “why is it so hard to struggle against capitalism”

23 Jun

Well yesterday I went to the Day of Discussion put on by the International Communist Current. They are a left-communist group. People reading this might not know what that is (and probably don’t tbf) so I will explain quickly what my understanding about the communist left is.

The communist left basically originated in the Russian revolution, supporting Lenin and the Bolshevik Party initially and rapidly getting disillusioned. They didn’t make Lenin particularly happy. They were the ones that Lenin was on about when he wrote his  notorious “Left-wing communism – an infantile disorder” pamphlet, because they were complaining that the revolution was degenerating (which it was) becoming more and more like capitalism again and becoming more and more authoritarian – basically coming to resemble, what we know now as state capitalism or “stalinism” betraying the russian workers they claimed to lead and distorting Marxism into an authoritarian doctrine. One of the founders of it was a guy called Herman Gorter who wrote an “open letter to Comrade Lenin“.

They think that the Russian revolution degenerated back before Lenin’s death (and also that nationalisation etc is not necessarily a step on the way to socialism or even necessarily an improvement to “normal” capitalism) rather than the Trotskyist view which was that this only happened after Lenin’s death and that what happened in the Soviet union and other “communist” countries was that they were “deformed workers’ states” despite the fact that they were a nightmare for huge numbers of working class people. And therefore that despite the criticisms Trotskyists had of them somehow their governments were usually worth defending.
Lenin and Trotsky were mates and Trotsky had a high position in the Bolshevik hierarchy and he could never bring himself to see the full extent of the wrongness of the Soviet regime.

The communist left on the other hand were closer to the anarchist position in that they believed that the revolution started going very very wrong within a year or two of 1917. There’s loads of stuff, Kronstadt, the fact that they made it very difficult for workers to go on strike, they introduced one-management (bringing back the old bosses that the workers had overthrown during the revolution)

“what? why do you want to go on strike eh, we have socialism now and “the working class” are now in power?”

I was really pleasantly surprised by the meeting. I had expected it to be a really small meeting full of party hacks but actually around 20 people were there and probably around half of them weren’t ICC members but from other organisations or not in an organisation at all. And most of them were pretty normal and had a good sense of humour (no offence but you’d have to have a good sense of humour to be part of the communist left!).

The topic of the meeting was “why is it so difficult to struggle against capitalism”. I’ve got my own ideas (some of which were sadly reflected in some of my observations that day, although i don’t think this was intentional) and in my next post I’ll do like a summary of that debate.

The good points were that I didn’t see any sectarianism on the level of what you would get in trot groups (there was one guy who made a dig about the SPGB which was out of order and he was swiftly shouted down), not many weirdo party hacks, most of the participants seemed to want to learn from other people rather than just promoting the views of their own organisation. And people with opposing views werent shouted down or told they were wrong.

There was also free food.

The bad points could apply to most left-wing organisations. One of the problems is that they assume a certain level of knowledge about terms like “decomposition” and things like that but they are hardly the only offenders for that. It also wasn’t as well publicised as it could have been and most of the people there (although not all) seemed to have all been involved in the “mileu” for a long time rather than people who had never been involved in politics. There were a few young people there but not many and some of the contributions at times seemed to be a bit vanguardist talking about how “we” will do this and that and “we” will integrate people into productive communism etc. I dont think that’s exactly what was meant but that’s how it came across but at least they were willing to take criticisms when I and others pointed this out.

I was actually really pleasantly surprised. I have a lot of differences with the ICC, one of them is my opinion about anti-fascism, as they see it purely as a distraction from class struggle. I can see their point but I still think that it is part of the class struggle. that is the main one i guess.

The other criticism I have got is about their papers, as I said they do assume a level of knowledge, it seems a bit stupid but there should be more pictures in the papers and sometimes the print is too small and a bit hard to read because the articles are so long.

I did pick up a lot of their literature, their paper “World Revolution” their theoretical journal “International Review” and a book called “Communism is not a nice idea but a material necessity”, and a pamphlet called “Trade unions against the working class”. I have read some of the anti-trade union pamphlet online but i find it easier to read books on paper rather than online.

The other left communist organisation that was there. the ICT, printed some articles in their magazine that were about Bordiga and Damen and I think some basic introductions to these people could be useful rather than immediately assuming that everyone knows who they are already (because i know who bordiga is but not really familiar with his writings or that much apart from that really) but that is part of my point about language I suppose.

The other bad thing was the fact that it was in London and therefore cost a lot for me to get to (which i can afford at the moment, but I probably won’t always be able to). I’d love to be able to organise or get involved in something that’s more local but at the moment I don’t have the time and I think a lot of people probably feel the same way.

I am quite wary of getting involved in any organisations these days but I was glad I went to this because it’s very rare that I actually get to discuss anything with people these days apart from the internet. And afterwards we all had a drink together and went for a curry, I thought it was great that we got a chance to talk about stuff afterwards and get to know each other a bit as people!

Policing the decline in healthcare

21 Jun

I just found this from the ICC’s website. It’s something that is rarely talked about even on the left. I am reposting it here because I think that what they are saying is extremely important especially in view of the recent news about ATOS and A4E.

The police are playing an increasingly prominent role in the NHS and social services. As health services are more and more stretched there is a greater emphasis on maintaining public order.

One example of this is the increasing tendency to treat the mentally ill as if they were criminals. You can get a ridiculously sanitised idea of this from the police training video in which the handcuffs go on as part of a caring and calming process leading to the patient, who’s been causing a disturbance, being delivered to a place of safety. The reality is not so pretty – half a dozen police raid the home of someone who is already frightened and unable to cope, cuff him and take him away in an ambulance. Sometimes dawn raids are carried out as though the mentally ill individual is some sort of terrorist.

If the way the police deal with the mentally ill has become more systematically brutal in recent years, there never was any golden age within capitalism. Not only does the stress of daily life within capitalism directly trigger mental illness, capitalist society is also incapable of providing adequate support that might enable the mentally ill to continue to lead normal lives. Instead, it relies on repression and compulsory treatment (organised in Britain under the various ‘Sections’ of the Mental Health Act) – necessary because the most severely mentally ill cannot cope in what passes for ‘normal’ society within capitalism. As conditions worsen, what care there was tends to be progressively replaced with an inflexible and terrorising mode of enforcement prioritising naked repression.

Thoughts anyone.

ICC at the lucas arms.

21 Jun

Tomorrow I am going to the meeting of a quite obscure left-communist group which nonetheless I have a lot of time for. I have talked before on my blog about how, while I dont think I call myself a left commie myself, I have some time for the ICC and the Communist Left in general. They’re having a day of discussion tomorrow about how to fight capitalism in London at the Lucas Arms and it promises to be an interesting day, I will do a full report about it on the blog afterwards for those of you who are interested and I will explain some stuff about the communist left (or what I understand about it anyway, which might be complete bollocks) in an accessible way.

If you are interested in going then you can find more details here.

Michael Portillo and FGW’s “luxury dining” restaurant

21 Jun

So this is what they are spending extortionate rail fees on. I opened up “Escape” First Great Western’s on-board glossy magazine that it’s not likely anyone has read from cover to cover and saw a whole article by Michael Portillo about the luxury dining experience  now available on some of First Great Western’s services. Which is unfortunately not available online or I would have shared the full horror of it with you all.

Oh and a feature about “glamping” bell-tents and yurts, costing a couple of hundred quid each. Doesn’t this rather defeat the point of camping which is that it’s a cheapo holiday where you get muddy uncomfortable and wet?

I wonder what’s happened to his career I mean it’s got to suck if you have reached the heights of success in British politics but are now reduced to writing puff pieces for First Great Western and their “in-train dining experience”.

The strapline even read “Michael portillo gets a taste of luxury” hasn’t he had luxury every day of his life? It’s not even online so I can’t even share my misery with anyone.

I can use this to have a general rant about the trains though. Tonight yet again a train was cancelled because “there was no staff member available”. Why’s that? Oh yeah they cut them all. Other reasons why trains are late include signalling problems (cuts in signalling staff) and “congestion caused by earlier delays” er … what? 😦

Meanwhile in some trains you get like three carriages full of first class, all empty while the plebs are crammed into the other carriages like nobody’s business.

The british transport system is one of the most expensive in Europe.  some fares have gone up by 90% in the last couple of years and over the last decade they have increased on average by 50%. For what? So Michael Portillo can have some rare steak it seems.

And this “luxury dining” bollocks won’t benefit the vast majority of people who simply want to use the train as a method of travel and don’t have the money or the inclination to take part in this bollocks except maybe very occasionally if they’ve saved up what they haven’t spent travelling on the trains.

First great western complaints.

10 Jun

I’m going to start doing a regular (well when i can be bothered) series about public transport and especially the “wonders” of first great western and getting to work in the mornings. I have hinted before on this blog although it was for a satirical piece, about my hatred of the thieves that run our train companies, believe me it has few limits. One day they will be run under workers’ control but until then we have to make do with bitching about it on the internet and complaining on those little flyers that they sometimes hand out after a particularly egregious offence.

One wizard wheeze they’ve recently started doing (and which some group of people sitting in a room was doubtless paid millions to come up with) is to start giving every train a wanky name like “Celestial express” or something of the sort. I don’t care what it is called, I only want it to be on time, and not be charged an arm and a leg for it. Unfortunately for First Great Western this is too much to ask.

Don’t be fooled by media lies about the RMT and other transport unions either, when they go on strike it is for good reasons like safety and the fact that they are trying to defend their terms and conditions from the growing casualisation that affects all industries. Strike days make up a tiny proportion of travel disruption compared to the countless delays and wastes of everyone’s time because the railway companies try to run everything to maximise profit rather than the safety of workers and customers. How often are trains delayed because there aren’t enough staff members, or because there are signalling problems – since they are trying to skimp on safety and reduce the numbers of staff on the railway lines and stations these problems will only get worse.