When I first saw this article from Freedom News about Labour sabotage of Mutual Aid groups I literally screamed “who from our group leaked this!”. I didn’t realise it was a London group who wrote it – that’s how common this issue is. For us locally, it’s awful. Sure, we have 550+ volunteers, do about 100-120 requests a week, have a super-robust safety process and procedure, and we started from about 3 folks on FB who knew each other from other actions. This is something to be proud of in your community. But we’ve faced an onslaught of public shitty bad-mouthing, almost always from Labour party members and reps.
This glory has ranged from a councillor who contributed 0 insisting we register as a charity before using GoFundMe, insinuating we’d be scammers otherwise, to their friend telling our local DPAC they “have a bad feeling” about us so don’t use us (great thing to tell people who may need us most). My personal fav was the full on “they are a Lefty cult and dangerous”. None of this has stopped the local councils referring cases to us on the daily though, of course. Oh, or the local Labour party trying to make a statement saying they “led” our project (pure shameless).
Yeah blah blah, politicians are shit. So why are we suddenly shocked by them ruining our projects? Well I think because:
- We thought Corbyn might have made Labour less shit, turns out he didn’t/couldn’t.
- We get it at demos when they organise nothing, turn up, grass to the cops, get a photo opp then bail, denouncing our violence later. This is usually small-scale, and no one cares.
- Mutual Aid is MASSIVE in the UK right now. Kropotkin is partying in their grave. We’ve never had such wide-scale autonomous projects, so we’ve never had such resistance.
- The pandemic is literally life or death, starving or eating, housed or houseless for millions. When someone tries to ruin the work we’re doing because they’re not at the centre of it, you take it more personally than anything else before.
Obviously, we know that party members and lovers are careerists and attention seekers, craving a podium to drone out a dull speech. Obviously, they’re threatened by non-party aligned, grassroots community responses, that squarely call out the state in all forms. But to me, the issue goes much deeper. It’s a class thing.
Now the bulk of our group is actually not mega middle class. Why is that? A stroke of luck? Not really. Middle class people are drawn to bureaucracy like flies to shit, meetings where they can repeat the same point for hours, banner drops once a year so they can tag themselves on FB and show the Guardian they were total rebels back in the day, merch and speakers before actually doing anything meaningful as a project. When it comes to actually following up on action points:
“oh like my dissertation is like massive” (ah, studying, of course harder and more important than working a job or raising kids)
This is where Mutual Aid during the pandemic lost its appeal to them – we needed graft from day one, and commitment. People are crying on the phone with empty fridges, we can’t fuck about. I knew from other projects it’s better to start off firm and say, if you say you’ll do it, you gotta do it. It’s rough but true. We’re super open about burnout, rotation, expanding responsibilities in the coordinating team but you don’t say you’ll get someone’s medicine then not answer the phone. Everyone is accountable. We have a coordinating group (not so anarchist now are we eh), not leaders, just people with rotating roles that are data sensitive, for example calling vulnerable people after to see if they’re okay, and so having access to their details. If you don’t have a role, you’re booted from the coordinating chat. To be clear anyone can have a coordinating role, but we have to keep some chats closed for privacy reasons – street by street simply won’t work in our town. Not gonna lie, it’s also super convenient to elbow someone out who is 100% objections to radical left organising and 0% contribution.
As such, we have very few volunteers from existing ‘radical’ left scenes in the area, barely any students, and are mainly just regular ass people. This has its own problems, to be read in the voice of Barry from Four Lions, we need to constantly “radicalise the moderates”, reaffirm our roots and point, but actually, there are few objections (not anarchist at all now am I?). In fact, this past week one volunteer has used the project to start a spin-off of maternity clothes swap and supply, a few are preparing for evictions resistance call outs and another cluster are making craft packs for children. We’ve also collaborated heavily with the largest mosque in the area who’ve set up a pandemic group, a mosque vandalised multiple times when it was being built. All of these projects are planned to continue after lockdown. How is all this not solidarity, just because we don’t wear the right patches or t shirts?
Back to my original moan – who is middle class and why does it matter? Chav Solidarity and Nicole Vosper/Rose (Overcoming Burnout, what a book) have detailed this way better than me, and it’s complex. I grew up dirt poor, bullied in school for being “the tramp”, but now I have a nice job which means I can skive off and spend my time doing shit like this. I’m aware I have a nice job – I have no family, savings or anything – but I am comfortable right now, and I think it largely nullifies me from waving a big “we the working class” banner above my head. Why would I ever need to? What does ‘owning the means of production’ even mean in 2020? Why take up all that space? Such working-class humility on my end eh 😉
Taking up space is oxygen to middle class people. They work precarious jobs like a kind of poverty porn to do articles about the struggles of the poors then jet off to tend to their horses on their parents’ estates. They angle to write for Lumpen because someone they are kind-of-related-to might be working class, then flash their private school credentials when applying for Labour Party jobs. They have nothing to lose, so long as daddy can pay for a good lawyer, they’re happy to do interviews with their full names exaggerating their involvement in radical movements. Labour Party members are much the same, just usually older. They have the Waitrose credit card, they’ve slogged it out with the peasants, and they have the SWP placard photo to prove it on their blog.
If you’ve grown up somewhere like Birmingham you become an expert on the type, super-poor areas like West Bromwich with fancy universities a stones-throw but another world away. Working class people don’t get a chance at a voice, we’re drowned out by fresh-faced white kids in organic housing co-ops. When this pandemic is over, expect hundreds of them doing analysis, Metro articles, the works, about their role, featured photos and all. I know – what a hypocrite I am writing this! But we’re 6 weeks in, this is Freedom, the hotline is quiet, and Ramadhan has started so I have a bit of time on my hands right now. Plus, I am so pure, I haven’t put my location or name down. Truly selfless.
It is so demoralising to have these pointless arguments, debates, confrontations and dramas with them. These are people told from birth that they are most important, most intelligent and always right. Just be firm and stick to your core values. Their entitlement is not your problem. No, you won’t register with the council. No, you won’t stop posting about how the Labour council left a refugee woman and her small children on the street. No, you won’t hand over this project to a Labour councillor or let them take press opps. This is about everyone, not someone. You’ve made it this far! And you’re awesome.
One thing to feel amazing about friends, aside from the incredible community-led safety net we’ve made out of literally nothing, is that we’ve shown ourselves, the general public and even actual Labour voters that we don’t need parties or states. We don’t need anyone. After the awkward fumble on the phone with an elderly white person shocked by my name, you get the usual working class pride, embarrassed to be asking for help. I always say – I’m sure you’d do it for me, that’s community isn’t it? And they always respond, I suppose I would.