Archive | May, 2012

UK Uncut anti-cuts street party at Nick’s

28 May

Some notes from last weekend’s street party

What with all the crap from this government bent on destroying all the good things in our society and the upcoming Jubilee and Olympics farces – UK Uncut’s call for a street party against the cuts was perfectly timed. We would take our party to the doors of the ‘architects of austerity’ in an act of collective resistance.

At Waterloo station we met our liaison officers for the day. The woman introduced herself and told me she would be with me for the entire day. I seriously doubted this, hoping that I would be able to shake her off, but she was true to her word, re-emerging at several points during the street party. The liaison officers provided their own form of entertainment – mingling amongst us and striking up conversation, playing some bongos, doling out potato salad – their cheeriness and over-friendliness was incredibly creepy but also quite funny. I don’t know where these folk came from but they were really getting into the party spirit…(they seemed to take a particular fondness to @tylershark who has some great Tweets detailing their interactions)

Hundreds of protestors piled onto the train at Waterloo which saw us heading out south to our secret target. The welfare block got off at a different stop from the others and were lead to a quiet road where we met lines and lines of police and saw the street party at the other end. We managed to break through the lines and join the party outside Nick Clegg’s £1million house.

Bunting was hanging across the street, the samba band were playing and people were sitting and standing around talking and eating together in the sun – the weather is definitely on our side and taking a stand against austerity. We sat down in some shade and iced ‘fuck Clegg’ onto a Victoria sponge cake which we shared out. UK Uncut had even produced a zine which they handed out which I think is an ace addition to an action – we should see more of them at actions. Slam poetry was provided by Pete the Temp and two women gave some powerful speeches about the NHS. One of these was the woman who told Andrew Langsley ‘No, you listen to me’. She told us how her doctor had tried to refer her for treatment with a private company – she refused but the company called her up day after day, but she still refused and encouraged us to all do the same in order to resist the privatization. She later on came and discussed campaigning tips with us. Another woman pointed out to us that we were in Putney home of the Putney Debates. This provided a nice contextualisation to our party protest, looking back at the previous struggles in the area over democracy.

A man from Occupy encouraged us to get into groups to come up with a short message for Nick Clegg – seeing as we were standing outside his house. I have got to a point where I have nothing to say to them at all, but it was a nice idea to get people talking together about politics – creating real street politics outside Clegg’s house. A general assembly later on continued this attempt to reclaim politics as something that we do together rather than allow politicians to do and mess up without our participation.

Nick Clegg’s house is surrounded by the homes of other millionaires out in leafy Putney. When a friend called my phone to ask where we were, I replied that we were ‘somewhere in the countryside’ as this place did not resemble any London that I knew. Our party on his doorstep was an attempt to remind him that although he cannot see it out here, his austerity policies are causing great harm in other parts of London and the rest of the country. It was also a chance to come together, make new friends, enact our own politics and have fun.

Behind the Rent Strike – Nick Broomfield (1974)

2 May

I saw this wonderful film the other day as part of the Bread and Roses film festival – Nick Broomfield was there to answer questions afterwards so we learnt a little more about the making of the film. I enjoyed the film so much I wanted to write a short piece to encourage others to watch it. 

The film opens with a middle aged woman putting Nick Broomfield firmly in his place. As a middle class film-maker he can never understand the lives of the working class and will never produce films that will reflect their realities. Ethel was certainly right to bring this young arrogant film maker down to earth, and his inclusion of scenes like this perhaps reflect his willingness to acknowledge and interrogate these limitations, of both himself and his medium. Yet, despite his privileged position, Broomfield’s documentary of life in Kirkby, Liverpool during the rent strike of 1972/3 does succeed in vividly portraying the difficulties and determination of the community.

There are many wonderful scenes which subtly, and sometimes a lot more explicitly with Ethel, get to the root causes of the issues faced by community. Broomfield takes his camera into the local school, where the emphasis on discipline acts as a cover for the real issues of poverty and unemployment. As Ethel notes, when the school send in the careers advisor, they might as well send along someone from the dole office as well. He also films in the local Birdseye chicken factory where an incredible scene of lines of women dismembering chickens was filmed with Broomfield being pushed on one of the factories trolleys around the room. Broomfield and the trolley pusher had failed to communicate beforehand when his assistant would stop pushing the trolley, and so they ended up doing the entire length of the factory.

Broomfield described in a Q&A how the women were the ones who were more active in the day to day organising of the strike, although in the meetings it was the men who tended to dominate. He conveys this well in the film through his interviews with Ethel and another woman whose thoughtful observations and reflections on the strike very much show that they were at the forefront and how significantly the struggle impacted on their lives. Broomfield lamented slightly that he hadn’t filmed more of the daily conversations held by the women – with a set amount of film that he could use, he saved it for the set pieces such as the strike meetings. He states that he would make a ‘less direct film now’.

Despite what it could have been had more film been available, Behind the Rent Strike is a beautiful and important film. Although exactly 40 years ago, the words of the residents of Tower Hill Estate strongly resonate today. They faced increasing rents for their poor housing conditions whilst their wages stagnated. The situation was intolerable. As one resident described, ‘the law doesn’t work for us, we have to take it into our own hands’.