Smash IPP

By Smash IPP


Content warning: suicide, self-harm


Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) is a barbaric, indefinite prison sentence introduced for minor crimes in 2005 as part of New Labour’s ‘tough on crime’ agenda. The cost has been deadly: 139 people have so far died by suicide on the sentence, not to mention the impact on families and communities. Parents have been left to bring up children alone. Kids get to know their dads only over a visits table.

‘Crime’ has always been a cheap and nasty election strategy for all the major parties, who care little about those most affected (people of colour and other working class people, LGBTQ and disabled people). IPP was no exception. Supposedly meant to lock up prolific violent and sexual offenders for a long time, a much bigger cross-section of people were affected. The most common IPP offence is street robbery. Under the law, you would be sentenced to an initial tariff, a minimum time that must be served, which was the usual time given for the crime. But after that, your release date would be decided by the parole board. Many have now served over a decade more than their initial tariff longer than those found guilty of murder and rape in some cases.

The sentence was abolished in 2012 by the European Court of Human Rights. But there are 2,480 people still locked up indefinitely in England and Wales for minor crimes. Many were very young at the time of their sentence, are now in their 30s and are totally different people. But they still can’t get out.

To ‘prove’ they are safe to be among the general public, IPPs found themselves locked in a Kafkaesque labyrinth of bureaucracy. They were required to complete certain courses, but the courses are not available or have years-long waiting times. A third of parole hearings are deferred each year. Cuts to prison budgets make it harder than ever to access the resources they need to get out. 90% of IPP prisoners have served their original sentence and are still waiting to be released. Their mental health deteriorates (no-one can ‘work towards nothing’), drugs are widely available and serve as a coping mechanism. Both count against them at their parole hearing. The cycle continues.

Even if IPP prisoners manage to jump through the hoops and convince the parole boards that they are no longer a ‘danger to the public’, the sentence carries a 99 year license. This means they can be recalled to prison at any time for breaking their licence conditions or not being considered of ‘good character’. This makes them an easy target for anyone with a vendetta, and probation officers are risk-obsessed. Simply speaking out against the way you’ve been treated can be enough to recall you[1]. Once you’re inside the whole cycle starts again.

It was this last factor that led to the partner and sister of one IPP prisoner to protest at Gateshead Probation Service last month. One of at least 7 IPPs from Gateshead, he is 14 years into a 4 year 6 month sentence.

Partner: “I’m protesting because my partner is an IPP prisoner and it’s to make people aware of the IPP and the fact that Gateshead Probation recall people for no reason. They don’t support them. They’re not given a chance to rebuild themselves in the community because probation recall them. No sooner do you get out of prison and you’re trying to rebuild your life, you’re getting knocked back by probation. The meetings aren’t too bad, going to see them twice a week or something, but it’s having to constantly look over your shoulder. You get recalled if you’re late, you get recalled if you swear, you get recalled if you spit. These are stuff that everyday people do.

It’s like no one seems to want them to turn their lives around and see them succeed. It’s like you’ve committed a crime, you’re a prisoner, that’s what you’re always labelled as. Even if you’ve got the tariff and you do that tariff, like, without the IPP, you come out say after 2 or 3 years, you’re still known as a prisoner 6 years later. It’s like, ‘well, he’s committed a crime,’ and that holds over your head for the rest of your life.

I’ve got a lot of support from groups on Facebook. It’s helped a lot to know you’re not the only person in that boat, in that situation. Prison WAGs is the best one. You know you’ve got support and you don’t have to give details of the crime. It’s your choice if you do or you don’t, but you know you’re not judged.

I want my partner to be assessed by a psychologist. The prison aren’t doing anything. He’s got mental health involved and they’ve not been to see him, they’re not doing anything.”

Sister: “He’ll take an overdose and then once they’re back in the cell in the prison, they let them buy more tablets [paracetamol].”

Partner: “They just don’t really care.

I’ve raised these things with the prison and they’re like ‘we have protocol to follow’. But they’ve got the safety of the prisoners to look after. One time when my partner overdosed, I had to call an ambulance myself. When they got to the prison gates, they were turned away. The prison didn’t send him to hospital until the next morning.

There are 14 IPPs on his landing now at HMP Northumberland. 7 of them are from Gateshead. There was one lad, I don’t know if he’s IPP, who cut his stomach open in his cell and started taking his bowels and everything out. The staff haven’t gone in to help him or anything. They left him about 4 hours. Once they managed to finally clear it up and get him to hospital and sort him out and that, when he went back to the prison he was allowed to buy razor blades again.”

Sister: “You’re just waiting for that horrible phone call.”

Partner: “Because the prison just don’t want to help.

They treat them awful. At the end of the day, I understand the person’s committed a crime, they might deserve to be in prison, but they’re still human, they don’t deserve to be treated the way they’re treated. It takes half an hour to go over and say, ‘Hiya, how are you? Do you wanna talk?’ They tell you to ring the Safer Custody line, but you ring them, you leave a message. I left a message about one of my partner’s overdoses in February and I’m still waiting for a call back.

It doesn’t help in the prisons now that a lot of the officers are 18, 19. They’ve just left school and they haven’t got a clue about the IPP sentence and they’re not trained.

Sister: “And if the screws have trouble, they go to my brother to sort it. He stopped one of them being stabbed. But if my brother has done something wrong, they turn their backs. Some of the time I think they don’t want him to go out, because then they’d have no-one.”

Partner: “They don’t seem to want to acknowledge they’re responsible because you’ve asked for help, you’ve been refused it, you’ve committed suicide, you’re no longer here, but the prison won’t take responsibility, they’ll twist it to make out like you haven’t asked for the help and stuff, to cover their own backs, and I just don’t agree with it. But someone’s gotta listen. Someone’s gotta listen eventually.”


Follow Smash IPP on Facebook and Twitter for details of demonstrations, petition and letter campaigns.


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No Sweat

By Jay Kerr


Sweatshops are post-modern day slavery.”

This was the language used by Jord Samolesky, the drummer of seminal Canadian punk band, Propagandhi, in our recent film Punks Against Sweatshops. And he’s right. When you strip away the glamour of the fashion industry, and look behind the cheap prices of the high street shops, you’ll find a trillion-dollar industry run on the backs of the most vulnerable people in the societies of developing nations across the world. People that are forced by poverty into a factory and then find themselves confined there by poverty’s unending economic cycle, and in many cases, by physical restraint: locked in the workshop at night, having their passports confiscated so that they can’t leave, and threatened with violence if they try to complain. These are the conditions that people in sweatshops work under, conditions of post-modern day slavery. And these are the conditions that the anti-sweatshop movement has been fighting for over two decades.

Most people are aware of what a sweatshop is, and if they are unfamiliar with the word then a quick reference to people in far-off countries, working long hours, in poor conditions, and earning a pittance while making clothes for major brands, will soon bring familiarity with the issue. Wages, hours and conditions are key elements of the sweatshop nightmare that exists on a global scale, making sweatshop exploitation very much a workers rights issue. But, this form of exploitation doesn’t stop there, it spreads out and touches lives across the spectrum.

Of the estimated 70 million garment workers in the world, over 80% of them are women. In factories where bosses see women as weaker they will create harsher conditions to maximise production targets. Toilet breaks, for example, are often rigorously timed with penalties for too much time spent away from the workstation. Beyond the financial impact on wages and the psychological impact on workers, this often has an impact on women’s menstrual health. In many sweatshop factories sick leave is unpaid and not calling in sick could lead to a sweatshop worker being sacked on the spot. Likewise, women who become pregnant often face discrimination and even dismissal. A climate of fear and intimidation among women workers has been reported repeatedly by NGOs investigating the industry in multiple countries. This intimidation often involves sexual harassment and abuse. Women who try to report these crimes often find themselves targeted with further discrimination: harassing workers until they resign, refusal of overtime, and concerted efforts to reduce their take-home pay, all contribute to silencing women workers.

Sweatshops are a feminist issue.

The long hours and low wages often have an impact on family life. Sweatshop workers forced to work long hours often rely on extended family members to care for their children, in many cases sending kids off to live with family far away. For those that don’t have this option, the daily wage not covering the basic needs of more than one person coming into a household with children means tough choices. Sweatshop workers, all of whom will want their children to have a decent life, are forced into a position of sending their children out to work in order to make ends meet. Millions of children around the world are forced into work from a young age and never get the opportunities of a basic education.

Sweatshops are a children’s right issue.

Workers that send their children to stay with family far away are often migrant workers, migrating from the countryside to the cities looking for work, or even across boarders to other countries, commonly without documentation, leaving them vulnerable to gangs involved in people trafficking. When workers migrate they are often forced into workplaces proficient at exploiting their vulnerability. Wages are lower than documented workers, workshops often double as accommodation and are commonly fire hazards. When workers do have documentation, they often have it confiscated by employers so that the workers can’t leave freely. Without documentation migrant workers, already susceptible to police harassment on the streets, run the risk of deportation, usually following an experience of police violence. What little money migrant sweatshop workers do earn is usually sent to support families back home, leaving them in an ever consistent impoverished state.

Sweatshops are a migrant rights issue.

The trillion-dollar garment industry run through sweatshops in the Global South is responsible for an output of clothing that feeds fast fashion in the West. The cheap clothes still bring huge profits to the brands and high street shops, while the workers slave away in poverty. The environmental cost of this industry is huge, with intensive production of genetically modified, pesticide-based cotton that consumes vast quantities of water or the synthetic materials used in clothing, now known to be contributing to the microplastics in our oceans, both providing the garment industry with the raw materials needed. The cheapness of clothes made in sweatshops with such huge quantities of unsustainable materials has the knock-on effect of keeping the cost of organic alternatives high, while the cost to life on earth is even higher.

Sweatshops are a climate crisis issue.

So what’s the solution?

The main solution to sweatshop exploitation is a united workforce, collectively fighting for their rights in the work place, for better hours, wages, and conditions  – and this means forming trade unions. But as we’ve said, workers will often face discrimination and retaliation if they try to organise, so international solidarity is key to their success. We can’t change the world by shopping but we can voice our support for the workers that make the things we buy. Social change does not come from the top down but the bottom up, so by people supporting campaigns that call on brands to make sure their suppliers are allowing unions in their factories, we can build solidarity with the workers in those factories and help to change their conditions.

No Sweat is one of the groups building this international solidarity. Our new T-shirt project is a way of highlighting the importance of this international solidarity, while at the same time funding it. At No Sweat, we import T-shirts from a workers co-op in Bangladesh run by former sweatshop workers, for wholesale in the UK, and the plan is to use the profits to fund garment workers unions that are fighting for the rights of sweatshop workers. The co-operative that makes the T-shirts pays a higher rate of pay than the average garment factory in the region, and then 50% of the profits are shared among the workers, bringing their wages up to the recommended living wage identified by unions in the country. As an example of best practice, the co-op also pays for the workers’ medical fees should they get sick, and funds school places for the workers’ children.

We want to see this co-op grow and thrive, giving the opportunity for more workers to join them and get out of the sweatshop nightmare. But, more importantly, as this T-shirt project grows, we can fund trade unions working with sweatshop workers and build our international solidarity campaigns around the struggles in these workplaces.

The fight against sweatshops is an international worker solidarity issue. 

Jay Kerr is an activist for No Sweat.



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by Andrew Fraser


I should really be writing this article, but instead I’m shooting the breeze with my east European, and similarly homeless, mates: Alfie (from Albania), Costa (Romania), Mario (Poland), and Dmitri (somewhere between Bulgaria and Mars).

I love these reprobates dearly. My brothers. I can spend hours with Dmitri listening to him wittering on in Bulgarian, and I don’t have a fucking clue what he’s going on about. He has lived here 12 years and the only English he seems to know is “Cigarette?” and “Me, no trouble!” said with deadly earnestness and a blue-black eye (to which I always reply “No, you TROUBLE Dmitri!!!”, and he falls about laughing).

The other day he took me to buy some cheap Balkan fags, and he chattered like a Furby all the way. On the way back I said to him “Y’know Dmitri, I haven’t got a fucking clue what you’re on about and I never have,” and he laughed heartily. I used to work in the media and I prefer my street mates by a mile. I never fitted-in and I didn’t really want to. But here among my fellow deadbeats I can relax. On the streets I seemed to find my place in this world.

I’ve just spent the morning in the job centre watching them tie poor Alfred up in knots with their deliberately impossible demands. I won’t let him give up. I can’t, even if I wanted to, because we are currently both living off my own benefits and my book sales. The book is a diary of my time on the streets and the proceeds go towards making my mates smile and bunging them the odd can of cider, knock-off Moldovan fags, and food.

It’s so much happier being around them in the muck and the rain than fighting the Matrix at Her Majesty’s DWP. With the help of others we’ve just got Alfie and Costa off the streets for a time, and I sleep more easily knowing they’re safe. But they’ve no money whatsoever, so they’re left with a choice between shelter but penury, or the violence and degradation of life on the pavement in Stratford … but with money, cigs and food from well wishers. Both have been horribly unwell and seemed weeks or even days from death before we got them somewhere safe – but I don’t think they’d have stayed indoors if I hadn’t had my book sales to keep them in basic comforts.

“But they choose to be homeless” – if I had a bed for the night for every time I’ve heard this sanctimonious bullshit. You can’t live on thin air and they would have just been exchanging homelessness for captivity if I and others hadn’t stepped in. You can’t be recaptured when you’ve been homeless. We’ve gone feral. I’d never have met them if it wasn’t for homelessness. So I’m glad it happened, in many ways. It was meant to be, clearly. Life sends you on some unexpected paths, but for all we endured, I’m grateful for them, and that it enabled me to document something so prevalent and yet so misunderstood.

So, yes, homelessness is horrific, cruel, unnecessary, soul-wrecking, dehumanising and exhausting. And when you say that fast, it might not seem like much … but trust me, the scars run deep. It’s incredibly difficult. But when we reject love, we love deep. For all its horrors there’s something liberating about rough sleeping. You’ve fallen as far as you can without actually dying. You go cry your tears in McDonald’s bogs then you let the tears dry on your face and get on with it. No point moaning.

We’ve been rejected by society so, quid pro quo, we no longer feel the need to abide by societal norms. So, yes officer, I will take a piss in that telephone box. They closed all the public toilets and Wetherspoon’s won’t let us take a dump in their dumps, so we go where we have to. Treat us like animals and we have no choice but to behave like them. And we are as free as urban foxes, we go where and when we have to. Free men and women, no longer slaves to the great big hamster wheel you’re all on.

So what is homelessness then?

Well really, it’s nothing.

It’s just a word.

An assortment of letters.

We’ve become so used to it, it really means nothing to us anymore.

It’s that girl with a few teeth and a twitch begging at the station.

It’s that bloke staggering around the shopping centre, drunk.

Who are these people?

They’re homeless. But they’re not us. We could never be them.

So just ignore them. Pretend they’re not there. Carry on recycling. You’re saving the world, after all. Nobody could ever suggest you were a bad person. Not like those wasters. You recycle and sign petitions, for heaven’s sake.

I mean you work hard. Not like those wasters. With their hands out. Most of them aren’t even English. Fuck off back to where you came from. Stop draining our society.


She was raped as a child. She’s traumatised. Now she’s taking drugs to hide her pain. On the streets she’s still repeatedly raped in her sleep.

He went to Afghanistan as an 18 year old child. He saw his best friend, the one who saved his life, blown to smithereens in front of him. There was barely enough of him left to bury. Now he drinks away his pain on the streets. He was decorated for bravery but nobody actually asked him how he felt.

He came from east Europe. His government encouraged him to come here. He was unemployed and a drain on their system. He came here and lived in a room with seven other men, working cash-in-hand. For £3 an hour. Then he got poorly. He’s not as young as he used to be. Now he can’t get employment, and he’s never accessed benefits. He’s fucked and drinking it all away. If he goes back to Warsaw or Bucharest he will freeze to death. The cold and violent streets of Stratford are like paradise compared to where he could be.

You will never walk in our shoes.

So before you rush to judge. Take a good long look at yourself. What did you do to deserve all you have? What did you actually do? Do you really have a grip on how privileged you are?

Sure you’re a good parent, you have nice mates and you buy them thoughtful birthday presents. But family and friends are just an extension of human ego. Helping strangers is true kindness. True love.

Stop judging and start helping. Stop moaning about the political establishment. It was ever thus. They won’t solve this. It falls to us.

Join the teams of community volunteers working unheralded in their own areas. Join the movement. Celebrate us and grieve for those of us who didn’t make it.

I often go back to the words, often attributed to Dietrich Von Bonhoeffer, which help direct my shoes:

“Silence in the face of evil, is in itself, evil.
Not to speak, is to speak.
Not to act, is to act.
God will not hold us countless.”

Whether he uttered those words of not, Dietrich was hung by wire by Nazis.

Laid his life on the line.

What are you doing?

I tell you what me and my mates did. We saved each other’s lives and we refused to die …


Andrew Fraser is the author of Invisible: Diary of a Rough-Sleeper (Freedom Press, 2019). Please buy a copy and help him keep his mates in fags, food, cider and smiles.



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by Penny Rimbaud

To be as much requires a beginning as does not to be, while, in turn, both suggest an ending. Never before, never again; stasis. Then where or what are the parameters? Only the silence, only the emptiness. Then, out of the void, a voice, ‘tis not I; hush, this is the silence’, and that is the question. The threads are golden; Ophelia follows the tides.

We exist, but now consider the landscape, embrace an ocean, observe the constellations and we exist no more; no past, no future, but still we exist. We exist in time, but time does not exist. We exist in space, but there is no space. We are this, but this has already passed us by, ceased to be. We are that, but that is always way beyond us. So then, do we exist only that we might be undone or is it rather that we exist that we might yet become? The threads are multiple.

We are handed down words as representations of things which in themselves have nothing to say; second-hand cast-offs in a dictionary of obsolescence. Does a tree say it’s a tree or even know that it is? Then why is it that we so like to presume on its behalf? “Ooh, look at that tree,” when a tree is clearly no more a tree than a banana skin. In their essential fauxness, words allude to give form to the formless which manifest as events that are the stuff and nonsense of the material world; psychological webs, the mind and its meanderings, the this and that of neurotic natter, fanciful rhetoric and, at best, metaphorical suggestion. And this also is the glue of attachment, the complex fragmented mess that we like to call the ‘real world’ all held together by the tacky tangle of illusory time and the singular separation of equally illusory space. Illusory, yes, but time and time again we are seduced by the lie. Thereby we become divorced from the greater forces of the universal to be deluded by sentimental tales of personalisation, possession, pride and prejudice; but, be warned, we cannot and will not be individuated and survive.

Trapped in tight little cul-de-sacs of self-absorption, yet deluding itself with conceits of free will, the psychological self, commonly known as ego, asks the questions and, ever-willing to compound the delusion, is quick to give the answers. Yes, no, on, off; the binary madness of ‘cogito ergo sum’ manifesting as agitated algorithms of mind. It is thus that we create our own fate, get beaten down by ourselves and, whilst denying our complicity, look beyond our illusory self to cast the blame. ‘J’accuse’, and the deadly missiles of ignorance are launched; the virus of negativity, cancerous in distillation, invisible in presence, blown on the winds of false prophecy. Self set against self, devouring self and other; the great divide. I think therefore … but think not and thereby give way to silence. There is no self to answer to.

So, driven by the consensual, and unable to see one thing without another, our muddled minds manufacture dualities which are the very root of doubt, the Yin Yang of fear, lurking in the shadows, ready to devour. It is from here that, to allay the darkness, we project it onto others, confusing sorrow with joy, hate with love, one with the other, any other, making opposites of them. Yet for all this, the all or nothing of the absolute determines that one remains the other as the other remains the one; true singularity in the manifold. Total being.

Negativity offers no solutions because it is counter-creative, counter-intuitive and counter-life. Hate is the ugly face of distorted love, fear is the invidious knowledge of our studied denialism; but the heart beats beyond these conceits, speaks out in its silent way against the heresy, ‘there is no blame to be cast out; it is you alone. There is no ‘other’ to look to. Look, then, to yourself, your hidden self. I will guide you, for it is only here that the answers abide, in silence.’ Then, most surely, rather than merely being a part of something, we become the all of everything, never apart, beyond expression, multi-dimensional and multi-directional, assured in the undoing.

‘I am heed and I am warnings. Cast off all ideas of self that self might arise untrammelled beyond your meagre imaginings. Come now, do you fear the idea that beyond idea you might not exist, that you might be no more than mere occasion, a slight upon breath? Then gasp, gasp at the magnificence beyond, unfold oceanic in defiance of the tempests – or cower serf-like in dusty cells of convention, conformity and indifference. Look now, the prison doors are open. There is no further to go, no more to be said.’

Acceptance of the materialist narrative is nothing less than self-imposed slavery. We are not, then how is it that we so blithely accept that we are, and, thereby, our containment? We define our own sorrows, freeze in the resultant fears and cheerily wear the mask of victimhood as if it were no more than cosmetic. Escape? But how? There are no clues to be given nor tricks to be played, quite simply, there is nothing to be attained and no path to follow. It is as is and that is that.

Silence. Silence now. We are never alone because we are as one, infinitive in expansion and unlimited in potential. Then what holds us back? What is the preventative? Why the inhibition? In short, what is stopping us?

Freedom is an existent reality: take it. Only you and the you that is not you; only the silence and the silence that is not silence. No more than this; to move on, but to remain here, there and everywhere. No more than that. There is no form, still less content. Each beginning is an ending, each ending a beginning; it is all a matter of attitude. And still the heart beats.

I have known these things yet know nothing, and in knowing nothing have grown to know these things. Freedom is an existent reality, take it now.

Whoops, missed it.


Penny Rimbaud, is a writer, poet, philosopher, painter, musician and activist. He was a member of the performance art groups EXIT and Ceres Confusion, and in 1972 was co-founder of the Stonehenge Free Festival. In 1977, alongside Steve Ignorant, he co-founded and played drums in the seminal anarchist punk band Crass.

Illustration by Gee Vaucher.



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Acid Communism

by Nadia Idle

“Real wealth is the collective capacity to produce, care and enjoy. This is Red Plenty … Red belonging is temporal and dynamic … a movement that offers unconditional care without community (it doesn’t matter where you come from or who you are, we will care for you anyway).” – Mark Fisher (Abandon Hope – Summer is Coming)

Hello. How are you feeling?

You. You, reading this. I’m communicating with you, my fellow human, through the page. We are separated by time and space, indeed. I don’t know who you are, or where you are right now, but I’m asking you anyway; taking an interest in you matters, because frankly: What else does?

Acid Communism. That weird and wonderful phrase. I hope it made you laugh, snigger or at least piqued your interest if you’re making its acquaintance for the first time.

Sometimes when you put two seemingly opposing things next to each other, they don’t repel one another, but form a beautiful, new synergy. Sometimes mixing colours creates new possibilities.

It is swirling the Left with the mind expanding while still in the cake tin. Can you see what you get? Come in, come in close.

Acid Communism points to a future that in the 1960s and ’70s seemed inevitable in the West, but which after 40 years of neoliberalism seems impossible. Could the Left break the ‘no alternative’ bubble of capitalist realism by unleashing post-capitalist desires? Could it be a project of building the imaginaries and capacities to unleash our freedom to live, care and enjoy?




Acid Communism is:

A lens, an approach.

A perspective, never an identity.

A way of walking the tightrope between sanity, and the freedom to be weird.

The curiosity, the left-reflective, the meditative state within a politics of solidarity.

The gentle, the kind, the open, within staunch anti-capitalism.

The energetic, the joyful, the collective connection.

Never the performance. It is about being authentic, always.

The prising open of space for the radical with sweetness

Cerebral plasticity against plastic.

The soft thanks-but-no-thanks to the pouted face, food on plate, me and my mates, desperation for likes and follows.

Transcendental and rebellious. It rises above the neoliberal bile, picking you up, above those clambering to get on the life boats while pushing others off.

The refusal to engage in a politics of exclusivity.

The response: I didn’t cause your pain. So hold my hand rather than shout at me.

What keeps me happy and moves me towards our shared horizon.




“Instead of seeking to overcome capital, we should focus on what capital must always obstruct: the collective capacity to produce, care and enjoy.” Mark Fisher, Acid Communism – Unfinished Introduction.

What are our unfulfilled desires? What are the obstacles to us living the lives we want to lead? What visions come to us in our dreams, which we shoo away, deeming them impossible?

Do you ever feel trapped? Like you can’t escape? Often you can’t tell what it is you need to escape, but a sliver within you tells you that it’s not right, this life, this day to day, this weekend, this hangover, this cycle.

Everything around you tells you it has always been this way, and will always be this way. But something else in you tells you it’s a lie. But you shut your soul down. Shhhhhhh. Get back to work.

When cynicism, depression and anxiety is so widespread we must first acknowledge that this must be structural. There are social forces that are causing so many people’s pain. If the problem is societal then it cannot be your fault and responsibility alone. The respite will not come from inside you. It will come from us acting together. From wading through this sludge and helping each other out onto the island.

Nostalgia won’t help us. We are where we are. But if you can imagine it, it can be your future.

If capitalism is a project of conscious deflation, telling us there is no way out, the Left must be a project of consciousness inflation. A politics and practice of joy and connectedness, prioritising laughter. Designing and pushing policies that make these things possible.

I always felt uneasy about hope. Then Mark Fisher gave me words to understand why. Hope is static, necessarily deflating. It lacks vibrancy, action or agency. It feels like a 1950s unhappy housewife, trapped, peering out of her net-curtains periodically, wishing something would come along to break the drudgery.

I don’t want hope. I want action. So I make it, now.




Acid Communism came to me in an organic drifty sort of way rather than as a bang on the head. In Beirut, December 2015, I was at a low point, lost, anxious and suffering from various traumas. I was morose and disheartened about life. Then I remember reading a post online about Mark Fisher’s Boring Dystopia Facebook page. Mark was thinking about getting a collective together to assemble a book on the subject, collecting pictures of broken ATMs, vending machines, CCTVs over-looking decaying streets etc. Unfiltered neoliberal reality.

I felt a pang of excitement, in that way when you sit up and your sunken body lifts.  A break in my clouds. This project’s playful outlining of how we actually experienced life under late capitalism excited me. I emailed him. He got back to me and said he’d set it up soon. It never happened. Mark was taken away from us. But his ideas live on and keep resonating through conversations, workshops and parties.

Our Acid Communism work isn’t in homage to Mark. It’s more an evolution inspired by where he left off. Our politics and life experiences feed-in to this growing, mutating, body of thought and practice.

The Acid Joy Collective brings together a group of people, each involved in various projects: Acid Communism consciousness-raising workshops, our radio show #ACFM, Acid Corbynism events around Labour Party conference, parties focused on good vibes and writing.

I do this work because it’s so human. It’s opened up a real space. We laugh a lot.  It’s brought me so many new friends. I didn’t realise the layers of cellophane around my mind until I started doing this.

People I meet have such nice things to say about this work, how it’s inspired them or helped them understand the world better. I never know what to say, but it makes me so happy that I’m involved in something that resonates with people. It gives me purpose and the energy to keep on fighting. It makes me feel less alone.

Acid Communism is the opposite of the Retreat Machine, which compresses us like a live dough ball, not allowing us to breathe, grow or see the light. The Machine turns you under and forces your mind and body to face inwards into a defensive state, where you can feed only on yourself.

Acid Communism is the bicarbonate, the yeast sachet in the mix. It causes the bubbling up, the doubling in size, the expansion, the inflation.

It is effervescent, light, and always playful.

It tells us the future is ours for the taking.


Nadia Idle is an activist and a presenter on Novara Media’s #ACFM and an organiser with Plan C.



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Class Traitors

by D. Hunter


Since I published Chav Solidarity, plenty of people have either asked me what I think constitutes middle class, or suggested that, in targeting middle class activists so much, I am being divisive. So, in the spirit of class unity and seeking to participate in the building of a strong revolutionary movement, I am no longer going to use the term middle class. From now on I am going to use the phrases class traitors or class treachery.

These terms will be used when anyone uses economic, social or cultural power solely to improve their own position at the expense of someone else within the working class. This includes exploiting racist, patriarchal, transphobic or ablest paradigms. Do this, and I’ll be calling you (and maybe myself) a patriarchal class traitor, racist class traitor, etc.

I’m doing this in the spirit of working class unity everyone seems to be gagging for. The definition of middle class appears to have become too vague and nebulous, too recuperated by the liberal discourse to be of any use to me. Instead, I’m going to work with the notion that all of us who are in the position where we have to sell our labour (or are excluded from doing so, due to the oppressive social system we live within) in order to ensure food and shelter – no matter how well financially rewarded – are part of the working class.

But those formerly middle class folk join working class folk who hoard their resources, engage and support practices and process which marginalise, dehumanise or exploit fellow members, and will now be referred to as class traitors. It’s likely that I’ll expand my definition at some point to include those who are not actively seeking out ways to collectivise their resources with other members of their class. But one thing at a time.

One of the motivations for doing this has been recently reconnecting with a lot of more academically formal approaches to evaluating class. I won’t name-check anyone or their work here, as, while there is much I find frustrating, there is undoubtedly much that has enriched my understanding. The stuff I’ve been re-reading has tended to stem from usually Marxist or Anarchist political traditions or Sociological work, primarily inspired by Max Weber or Pierre Bourdieu. All of these have in the past been incredibly useful as I’ve developed my own ideas and understandings; however, much of the writing I’ve been re-reading lately seems at it’s most content when it’s dealing with classification – the process of precisely identifying what characteristics make up a specific class of people, whether those characteristics are social, cultural or economic.

Is a plumber with his own company working class or not? What about an academic on a zero-hours contract? What if the plumber likes ballet or dog racing? Will the parents of the academic be leaving them £1,000 or £10,000 when they shuffle off their mortal coil? Do they live in London or Burnley?

These questions and others like them are supposed to lead us to conclusions about class position. Often a choice between “working class” and “middle class”, but more and more new categories are being suggested. Categories like the precariat, the lower-middle class, the upper-working class, and the footballer. And this is all interesting, and I’ve thought and spoken in these terms as well, but I’m left wondering whether they’re useful.

There is also the type of writing that aims to determine what the working class looks like in the 21st Century, and what the most significant and revolutionary segment of the working class is. In case you wonder, the answer is always, what ever segment the author is from (see my book Chav Solidarity for a cracking example of this).

I’m just not very interested in talking about categories, and definitions of those categories. It feels like just a way to avoid talking about what defines those categories. What capital do we have? What power do we have?

That’s not to suggest we do away with categorisation as a way of explaining what’s happening in front of us all. There are the capitalists, the 1-5%, the ruling class, and the owning class, and then there are those of who live underneath them. As far as names go, the working class will do as a way to describe us – everyone else, the have-nots.

And it’s not to suggest there aren’t staggering levels of inequality within the working class, an inequality that simply must be engaged with, possibly remedied before any kind of working class movement in the UK achieves anything. Those of us in the working class who have access to resources, whether directly through economic capital, or via the social and cultural capital we have accumulated, need to be putting it to use for the common good, not just so that we can have a slightly more physically comfortable life.

This direction I’m trying to shift my thinking in, places emphasis on how we choose to act, and how we choose to use the capital and the power we have. To be a full on class traitor you have to work really hard in making the same type of choices on a daily basis: a cop, a member of the armed forces, a UKIP member or Chelsea supporter are some examples. Yes, there maybe understandable reasons why you join those groups, the world’s a fucking complicated shit show, and the decisions can happen when you’re young and in a specific context. But you can learn and grow and then choose to quit betraying your class.

Most of the time, though, people will just betray their class once or twice a week – maybe more, maybe less. When I moved cities at the start of 2019, I didn’t make sure I touched base with all the young people I worked with before I left, just to make sure they knew how to get in touch with me if needed. Two are now in prison, which might well have happened whatever I did, but I didn’t continue to use my power and resources to impact their lives in the way I had previously, and had intended to do. Class Treachery. If you’re squatting with others, and they are have no other option, but you’re in the financial position to purchase a house, or some land, or provide long term security for yourself and them. Class Treachery. If you get nicked for your involvement in direct action, and you’re white and have social and cultural capital that affects how you are coded by the press and the courts. And are then financially, socially and culturally supported through the judicial system, without redirecting that support and the resources that come with it to Black and Asian youth, who are not coded in the same way – guess what? Class Treachery.

Pejoratively calling someone middle class, especially as I have done many, many times, can leave people feeling passive – what can they do about the circumstances they were born into? They can’t stop being from a middle class background, can they? But in calling someone’s actions class treachery, well, any passivity that follows it suggests that they don’t give a shit, that they are comfortable with their behaviour. That class solidarity is an irrelevance to them. This feels more useful. If all we see from those who stand alongside us in social movements that resist capitalism is class treachery, then there’s a good chance that we’re surrounded by class traitors.

I was in two minds about adding the prefixes of racist, patriarchal, ableist and transphobic to the class traitor moniker. These oppressions are so intrinsic to the capitalist system that any act which supports them is in itself an act of class treachery; however, as I’m only subject to one of these specific systems of oppression, I decided it was not my place to subsume them into my latest praxis and therefore run the risk of devaluing the different ways those systems function.

Maybe for some of you there has never been a middle class – you’ve clocked it as a rhetorical tool to break up solidarity within the working class. Well, as a rhetorical tool it worked. We are broken up, we have been stratified by the uneven financial, social and cultural bribes from capital that we each receive. And, as we seek to repair our class solidarity, we must find ways to collectivise what we have, so that no one is left behind as we take on the capitalist class in a fight for control of our lives.

The long and the short of it is that in the name of class unity, I’ll be thinking some of you are class traitors from now on. I, of course, welcome any criticisms regarding my new approach to life, as I try to refine it.

D. Hunter is the author of Chav Solidarity.

Photography by Kelly O’Brien.


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London Is Shit

by Lisa McKenzie


This is a love letter to working class Londoners struggling every fucking second of every fucking day trying to survive – disappearing into the walls of the packed public transport that they travel further and further on to get to a job that doesn’t pay the rent.

After 7 years of living in London, I’m out. I’ve gone to the north east, to County Durham. I could no longer eat whatever was in the clearance aisle at the supermarket while paying a landlord rent that is more than most people outside of London earn. It was making me sick: literally, the air is full of concrete particles from the residue of ‘redeveloped’ – or, rather, bulldozed – council estates. London was sitting on my lungs, and I couldn’t breathe.

London was making me sick: the stress of finding that rent every month filled me with fear and anxiety, and I was not alone. Working class Londoners share a collective fear and anxiety – you can feel daily on the tube, on the bus, on the street, in the supermarket. It’s electric, it’s frightening; it’s also addictive, knowing that people’s anger can, and does, explode constantly.

Hundreds of thousands of working class Londoners subsumed and trying to survive within a city that hates them — a city that ignores them, pretending not to see their graft. Cleaners, shop workers, public transport workers, the homeless, the unemployed and the sick: those made sick by London are everywhere. On night buses trying to kip safely, in sleeping bags on Oxford Street (sometimes sharing the pavement with boxing day shoppers and Apple geeks waiting for the annual launch of a yet another iPhone). Those made sick by the most expensive, unequal city in Europe are everywhere, moving through the city on mopeds, sometimes with knives – children stabbing children for the only thing they have left: respect.

The elders have disappeared into their flats: coming out means facing a city that has been their home but is now hostile towards them. Their children have often left, or been forced out by rising rents and diminishing social housing while a hostile new ‘Londoner’ has forced its sharp elbows into their cafes – now coffee and pastry shops. In their old boozers (now gastro-pubs and craft ale tasting centres), the sticky carpets they once did the twist on have been replaced by salvaged parquet flooring. The pints that would cost a couple of quid and were mainly social are now 7 quid, and have become some type of wank middle class weapon in the class war.

Hate is a strong word … but I can’t think of another that adequately describes how London treats its working class. Works them to the bone as they try and pay their ever increasing rents. Mothers with small children are being dispersed because they are not worth the land they live on – the small spaces they inhabit are needed by India and Sacha to have a ‘Year Here’ (middle class people squatting east London communities to gawp at the working class and put it on their fucking CV). Nans and granddads are finding space on sofas and pull-out beds for grandchildren with nowhere to go. Children sharing beds and bedrooms with their parents – all are exhausted – while daily they look out of the bus window and see the glass and chrome penises exploding from the ground and forcing themselves on the London skyline.

It’s a violent act.




Violence surrounds London. It’s everywhere. From the violence of the glass and chrome penises in the sky; to the aggression of landlords demanding rent they know is unfair, unjust and nothing but greed; to local councils, bureaucrats and administrators, and the political representatives that waive through – push through – the agendas of bosses and speculators while pretending they are doing anything good. Can’t argue with democracy.

Special words must be saved for these, the London vultures, swooping in on misery. Whether it’s those that see a business opportunity out of capitalism’s defeat of the working class (we used to call these profiteers and during wartime they would be incarcerated). Or the revolving door of local representatives/opportunists’/power zombies. I can’t distinguish between them: local councillor, Mayor, Member of Parliament, Oxbridge journalist, the chattering class – or as one bloke down the last remaining boozer in Bethnal Green called them “the cunts”. Their faces, their voices, their media trained mannerisms; their blandness and fake concern seep through their skin like the sweat falls off the working class woman’s brow while she cleans their offices – like the tears that fall down her face as she weeps for the future of her children.

Oh London is shit, its full of it. The Instagram creatives with a trust fund and their endless whining about the state of capitalism as they ignore the minimum wage worker that just handed them their fucking skinny soya latte; or take a selfie outside someone’s home because they think a council estate is edgy; or spray paint ‘a piece’ of corporate and state sanctioned art on Brick Lane, knowing or caring nothing for the local businesses, people, families and communities that are being forced out because of their “creativity”. Asking fucking permission from the council is not fucking creative. Cunts.

London is run by cunts. The Mayor of London’s office supports every shit re-development from Croydon BoxPark to the removal of Gallions Point Marina on the Thames, handing out public money to football clubs, international banks, and the Olympics, while getting a photo opportunity with Bono. Is Westfield really worth the misery of the removal of the traveller community that had lived there for generations? Or the destruction of London’s last dog track, and along with it a working class sport, culture and tradition that was simply not worthy of the eyes of the new residents in the “East Village”? Do me a fucking favour. High-rise hotel rooms in the sky rented for £2,000 a month with a Pret-a-Manger at the bottom are not the same as a village, even if it has got a boulevard of smog-choked trees sprouting out of the concrete.

London is shit, it’s full of shit — but Londoners, working class Londoners, you deserve better. Join me in the north. There is fresh air, and a bit of space to breathe. Let’s leave the Insta-creatives, the bankers, the politicians, the media luvvies, and the chattering classes to make their own fucking coffee.


Lisa Mckenzie is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Durham University and author of Getting By: Estates, Class and Culture in Austerity Britain. Her new book Class Cleansing: Grieving for London is out in 2020.

Illustration by Nick Hayes.


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Abolish Carceral Society

by Abolition Collective


Abolitionist politics is not about what is possible, but about making the impossible a reality. Ending slavery appeared to be an impossible challenge for Sojourner Truth, Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner, John Brown, Harriet Tubman, and others, and yet they struggled for it anyway. Today we seek to abolish a number of seemingly immortal institutions, drawing inspiration from those who have sought the abolition of all systems of domination, exploitation, and oppression—from Jim Crow laws and prisons to patriarchy and capitalism. The shockingly unfinished character of these struggles can be seen from some basic facts about our present. The eighty-five richest people in the world have as much wealth as the poorest half; more African American men are in prison, jail, or parole than were enslaved in 1850; we have altered the chemical composition of our atmosphere threatening all life on this planet; women and trans people are significantly more likely than cisgender men to be victims of sexual and domestic violence; rich nations support military interventions into “developing”countries as cover for neocolonial resource exploitation.

Recognizing that the institutions we fight against are both interconnected and unique, we refuse to take an easy path of revelling in abstract ideals while accepting mere reforms in practice. Instead, we seek to understand the specific power dynamics within and between these systems so we can make the impossible possible; so we can bring the entire monstrosity down.

We must ask questions that are intimately connected with abolitionist movements if we are to understand these dynamics in ways that are strategically useful. How do those in power use differences of race, gender, sexuality, nationality, and class to divide and exploit us? How do we build bridges across these divides through our organizing? Activists on the ground ask such questions often, but rarely do those within universities become involved. Instead, academia has more often been an opponent to abolitionist movements, going back to the co-constitution of early universities with colonialism and slavery, and the development of racial science and capitalist ideologies. Academic journals have functioned to maintain a culture of conformity, legitimated with myths of “political neutrality” and “meritocracy.” At the same time, colleges and universities have always been terrains of struggle, as radical organizers have found ways to expropriate their resources: from W.E.B. DuBois’s abolitionist science at Fisk University to the Black Campus Movement of the sixties. Inspired by them, we refuse to abandon the resources of academia to those who perpetuate the status quo.

Instead, we are creating a new project, centred around Abolition: A Journal of Insurgent Politics—for research, publishing, and study that encourage us to make the impossible possible, to seek transformation well beyond policy changes and toward revolutionary abolitionism.

Our journal’s title has multiple reference points in a tense relation with one another. “Abolition” refers partly to the historical and contemporary movements that have identified themselves as “abolitionist”: those against slavery, prisons, the wage system, animal and earth exploitation, racialised, gendered, and sexualised violence, and the death penalty, among others. But we also refer to all revolutionary movements, insofar as they have abolitionist elements—whether the abolition of patriarchy, capitalism, heteronormativity, ableism, colonialism, the state, or white supremacy.

Rather than just seeking to abolish a list of oppressive institutions, we aim to support studies of the entanglement of different systems of oppression, not to erase the tensions between different movements, but to create spaces for collective experimentation with those tensions. Instead of assuming one homogenous subject as our audience (e.g., “abolitionists of the world unite!”), we write for multiple, contingent, ambivalent subjectivities—for people coming from different places, living and struggling in different circumstances, and in the process of figuring out who we are and untangling these knots to fight for a more just and liberated world. With Fanon, we are “endlessly creating” ourselves.

Abolition takes cues from the abolition-democracy espousedby figures like W.E.B. Du Bois, Angela Davis, and Joel Olson. Our orientation toward academic insurgency builds upon the struggles of the Black campus movement against the White University, the American Indian movement against the Colonial University, feminist and queer movements against the Hetero-Patriarchal University, and anarchist and communist movements against the Capitalist University. As efforts to revolutionize academia originated and drew their lifeblood from movements outside and across the boundaries of academic institutions, today we recognize that our journal’s radical aspirations must be similarly grounded. We must therefore facilitate collaborations of radical academics with and in support of movements that are struggling against oppressive regimes and for the creation of alternative futures. Recognizing that the best movement-relevant intellectual work is happening both in the movements themselves and in the communities with whom they organize (e.g., in dispossessed neighbourhoods and prisons), the journal aims to support scholars whose research amplifies such grassroots intellectual activity.

In tension with struggles against and beyond academia, we recognise the desires of academics to survive within it, for the access to resources that inclusion can offer. Rather than accepting such desires as eternal necessities, we foresee that the success of abolitionist projects will change the availability of resources for intellectual activity as well as what we understand as a “resource.” To help academics grapple with transgressing academia’s boundaries, our journal aims to provide some legitimacy within the dominant value practices of academia (e.g., publication requirements for hiring, tenure, and promotion), while simultaneously pushing the limits of those practices. All of our publications will be accessible, free, and open access, refusing the paywalls of the publishing industry. We will also produce hard-copy versions for circulation to communities lacking internet access. Yet, we are not abandoning peer review—sharing writing with respected comrades and giving each other feedback before wider circulation—which can be useful for movements to strengthen and amplify their intellectual activities. As peer review is ultimately based on relationships of trust, we ask why academics on the opposite side of our struggles are our “peers.” Instead, we commit to building relationships with activist-intellectuals for whom a new kind of peer review can serve as an insurgent tool to expropriate academia’s resources for knowledge production.

“Abolition” as a concept, process, and reality becomes the common ground upon which we meet, struggle, and join together in solidarity.


Abolition: A Journal of Insurgent Politics is a collectively run project supporting radical scholarly and activist ideas, poetry, and art, publishing and disseminating work that encourages us to make the impossible possible, to seek transformation well beyond policy changes and toward revolutionary abolitionism. Abolition is a fully open access journal and strives to be as accessible as possible.


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Cycle Tracks Will Abound in Utopia

by Alex Marshall


Beast from the East … we’re out there! Hottest summer since records began … we’re out there! Hurricane Nebuchadnezzar or whatever stupid name they have come up with this time … we’re out there! Every time you look outside the window, think “screw it” and decide not to bother going out, you can guarantee there will be a load of couriers out on the road braving whatever the elements throw at them, desperately trying to make a piss-poor wage.

The unconventional way you operate as a courier, with the nomadic existence while at work – minimal interaction from bosses beyond a few orders over the radio, the (false) belief that you can work when you want, getting a job without having to produce a C.V. that symbolises putting glitter on a turd, and generally doing something that doesn’t entail being sat behind a desk for ten hours a day – is what draws a lot of people in. I work alongside musicians, artists, actors, activists, punks, squatters, people who suffer from anxiety, depression, alcohol and drug abuse, and all other types that might struggle to fit into the conventions of society but still need to make a living. Being a courier is their lifeline.

You start out thinking that you are doing the work on your own terms – you are there because you choose to be – and that the job fits your lifestyle; however, soon after the reality of it all kicks in. The idea that you are “self-employed” and can enjoy flexibility is completely bogus. Companies frown upon people who try and exercise any flexibility and there are even rules in place (attendance bonuses, delivery ratings that boost chances of getting prime shifts etc.) that actually make it detrimental to your earnings to try and exercise the “freedoms” of being self-employed. The low wages mean you are shackled to working long hours so the bills can be paid, and leaves you chasing those extra drops that make the money for a ten-hour day in the cold, hard rain just about worth the pain you have endured.

My epiphany came one evening in a pub chatting to a group of mates, all employees. I had viewed them like battery farm chickens while I was out enjoying my no strings, lone-wolf existence on the road going against the grain of employment. I realised that not only was I working a hell of a lot harder than them for considerably less money, I was also working longer hours every week and taking less time off every year compared to them. Turns out this freedom I had been sold did not exactly do what it said on the tin.

The attitude ingrained into the industry, from couriers to management, is that this is how it has always been and how it will always be. If you don’t like it, you can go find another job. This has never sat well with me and the formation of the courier and logistics branch at the Independent Workers Great Britain (IWGB) showed me that there were others who felt the same way. I joined shortly after its inception but my membership lay dormant for a while as I believed that my personal situation was not as bad as others on the road, and didn’t feel entitled to the union’s immediate attention. As time went on I became conscious that just because my situation was not as terrible as others, I was still being just as exploited and it had to stop.

I started talking to couriers at my company, The Doctor’s Laboratory (TDL – an NHS contractor responsible for running pathology tests), and was amazed at how almost everyone in the fleet of over 120 was getting screwed-over in one way or another. The main issues were the denial of basic workers’ rights – including paid holidays and pensions, unpaid wages and overtime – bullying by management and a clear lack of process when being disciplined, amongst many other things. To be fair on a company that does not really deserve any fairness, they were no different to every business in the industry.

The dystopian environment at TDL made recruitment and unionising a fairly straightforward task. The hope of anything better than the couriers were currently enduring was enough to convince people to sign up and start pushing for better conditions. Before long we had a majority of the workforce as members of the IWGB and, in turn, union recognition.

In the two years that have passed since unionising started at TDL the wins have been coming thick and fast. After taking the company to tribunal we won reclassification from self-employment to Limb B workers, which means we are now entitled to holiday pay and pension contributions. Through campaigning we have driven up the salaries of long suffering van-driving employees by £5,000. We managed to get workers who were wrongly suspended, reinstated. Hundreds of pounds have been reimbursed that were wrongfully deducted from workers. Most recently, after twelve months of negotiations and the company failing to rectify a lacklustre and stagnated pay structure, the TDL couriers went on strike for two days and brought the company to its knees. They crumbled to our demands and the win saw a fleet-wide enhancement in pay and conditions. Unions work. Strikes work. Boom!

Clearly more needs to be done in all workplaces. A recent report from the TUC estimates 4.7 million of us are relying on ‘gig economy’ platform work and it’s plain to all that this erosion of workers rights combined with no guaranteed hours or wages is a grim and unacceptable reality.

Membership of the Courier and Logistics branch continues to expand, as riders have had enough of being mistreated and risking their lives daily to make a living. Internationally, seven workers have already been killed in 2019 whilst working for one of the many takeaway delivery platforms.

Earlier this year, IWGB-led Deliveroo strikes took place in Bristol, Nottingham and London that exemplify the discontent bubbling not only across the country but across the world. Spain, Italy and Canada have all seen similar strikes in the last month alone. The movement is spreading and growing. Connections with sister unions abroad have been established and are being strengthened, with the realisation that riders worldwide are all staring down the same issues of precarity and abysmal pay.

The IWGB’s victory at TDL sent shockwaves across the courier industry and all the other sectors continuing to exploit workers. The Union is on an upwards trajectory of success and the sense of unity amongst members is palpable. We now have a blueprint for victory and we will be tackling more places that choose to exploit our members.

With ongoing court cases, including back-dated holiday claims against City Sprint and TDL amounting to well over £1 million; an exciting project backed by trade union colossus the International Transport Federation commencing imminently; and membership being extended nationwide due to high demand for representation, the future of the branch has never looked so strong.

It’s time to rise up and get what we deserve: Unionise, organise, campaign, strike, win!

Alex Marshall is a bicycle courier at The Doctors Laboratory (TDL) and Chair of the IWGB Couriers & Logistics Branch.


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Owning It

By Derek Wall 


A number of disparate groups and individuals have decided that the path to liberation will come from building the solidarity economy. The solidarity economy involves the creation of a network of cooperatives, social centres, community gardens and grassroots trade unions. This is an economy that works to move the production and consumption of vital goods and services beyond both profit obsessed capitalism and a bureaucratic state. It is owned by us, the community, not by a minority of wealthy shareholders. It has at least three functions: 1) Practical solidarity which is closely linked to the concept of base building 2) The creation of ecological forms of production 3) The construction of a new society based on innovative values and practices. This isn’t abstract theory: it is being built now and you can help with the construction.

Practical solidarity means supporting those in need and those in struggle. Warm words and political pamphlets don’t feed the hungry, help prisoners or build capacity for change. One element of the solidarity economy is providing social centres that can be used, in part, to promote activism. They can act as a meeting place, provide offices for campaign groups and host food banks. As well as providing solidarity networks, practical action can help convince people that a new society is possible. The US film maker and musician Boots Riley has argued that movements have been too reliant on what he calls ‘spectacle’; by this he means an event that gets media attention, such as direct action. He argues that we also need to build long term capacity for change. This is the essential characteristic of base building: helping to create, deepen and sustain a culture of resistance. It reflects the practice of the Black Panther Party and other African-American revolutionaries, who in the 1960s and 1970s put on free breakfast programmes for children, and other solidarity projects. Social movements and campaigns, like Occupy, Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion, are vital; efforts to build a network of social centres and community projects can help to maintain them over the long term.

The ecological element comes from producing in an environmentally friendly way: promoting permaculture, renewable energy generation, tool libraries, cycle repair and low energy transport. Cooperation Jackson, whose members recently undertook a speaking tour in the UK, are an excellent example. Kali Akuna from Cooperation Jackson has bluntly stated “We are at the midnight hour, and it’s eco-socialism or death.” Jackson is the largest city in Mississippi, and is known for its militant African-American population; it has been an important site of civil rights struggles and is now in the forefront to resistance to Donald Trump. Today it is the site of a major experiment in solidarity economics that aims to go carbon neutral as swiftly as possible.
The solidarity economy is militant and plural. It is militant in that it is directly building dual power, creating new institutions that challenge the state. Plural because it draws in anarchists, Marxists, eco-socialists and other groups and tendencies besides. It is based not on a narrow prescriptive ideological understanding but on practical action. You might argue that it is inventing the future.

Increasingly, radicals have been putting their hopes in figures such as Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, who aim to win elections on a progressive policy platform. The historical record shows that left leaders have often achieved little once elected. It is not merely that they may be corrupted but it is also that state isn’t something that can easily be picked up and used as a tool for positive social change. The array of forces presented against Corbyn range from the army to the media, and even the US government: US politician Mike Pompeo has ominously said he would attempt to block a Corbyn government. The British media are in full attack mode already, while at least one General has suggested a military coup will be necessary if Jeremy were to enter Downing Street. To resist and to go beyond the electoral left, which is defined as extremism by our billionaires, we need to organise. A solidarity economy contributes to the creation of organisational capacity.

Another element of this approach includes base-building trade unions. The International Workers of the World, a radical union, mobilised millions of workers in the early 20th century. Promoting anarchist, left libertarian and grassroots approaches, they are growing again. Acorn is another example, an international tenants’ union that uses direct action to challenge abusive landlords.
New technologies such as three-dimensional printers open up the possibility of automated low-cost community production. The practice is increasingly obvious, but a lot of the theory had been anticipated in the work of the late, great Elinor Ostrom. Elinor, who died in 2012, was the first (and, so far, the only) woman to win a Nobel Prize for economics. She won it for her study of the commons – collectively owned forms of property. In 1968 the biologist Garrett Hardin wrote ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’, where he argued that common land would be degraded because human beings could not work cooperatively to conserve resources. Elinor put much work into researching the practical ways of building trust so that collective ownership could work. She was also a keen advocate of co-operatives and would no doubt have been inspired by the notion of solidarity economics.

There are various discussions about modern monetary theory, universal basic income, fully automated luxury communism, etc. To varying degrees, these may be part of a path to a better society; however, the solidarity economy is something that is being built now, and it doesn’t involve developing a policy that we hope some benevolent government will put into practice if we ask nicely enough. The virtue of the solidarity economy is that it helps to build up the forces necessary to achieve change by getting people involved and promoting activism. We learn best from practice and experience, this is how ideas are best transmitted and learnt.

Don’t believe me? Well why not visit a social centre like the Cowley Club in Brighton, with its vegan food bank, English lessons for asylum seekers and punk picnics, all inspired by Harry Cowley. Harry Cowley, a grassroots social activist from the 1920s to the 1970s, fought the fascists, moved the homeless into squats and in his later years mobilised pensioners. Or, if you are in the US, take a look at the work of Philly Socialists, which includes the creation of the Cesar Andreu Iglesias Community Garden, named after a Puerto Rican writer and trade unionist.

Solidarity economics isn’t a perfect solution. Cooperatives can fail, community organising can be hard work and such approaches have not always proved sustainable in the past; however, it is a way of building the capacity needed for potentially revolutionary change, and doing so in way that rejects dogma and supports community involvement. And, wherever you look, the solidarity economy is diverse, dynamic and growing.

We can build a path to liberation, and maybe, even in an increasingly unjust and chaotic world, enjoy doing so.


Derek Wall teaches political economy at Goldsmiths College and is a former Principal Speaker of the Green Party of England and Wales. His books include Elinor Ostrom’s Rules for Radicals (Pluto) and Hugo Blanco: A revolutionary for life (Resistance/Merlin).


About the Cowley Club
Beyond the Ballot Box: Introduction to Base-Building in Philadelphia
“It’s Eco-Socialism or Death” An interview with Kali Akuno
Seven Ways to Build the Solidarity Economy


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