A winter of discontent?

There’s no denying that we’re heading deeper into a clusterf**k situation. From the massive rise in fuel bills coming in from October onwards to bus services being axed leaving people in outlying suburbs and villages stranded, it feels like it’s one thing after another at the moment and that it’s only going to get worse. Among our comrades, there’s talk of this being a winter of discontent, albeit there are a variety of views on how this is going to manifest itself. One reason for the divergence of views is down to whether the comrades in question are workplace focused or community focused. We’ll admit that historically, our focus has been on community politics and when it comes to workplace issues, we have to look to the likes of libcom.org and Angry Workers of the World for some kind of a heads up on what’s happening.

On the workplace front, there’s certainly an uptick in strike activity: More rail strikes are planned for September – here’s everything you need to know – Time Out 25.8.22 and: Notice served for second round of national BT Group strike action – CWU 12.8.22 and: Post Office strike – three new days of action announced for August – CWU 12.8.22. More interestingly, there are wildcat strikes: Wildcat strike at Amazon – libcom.org 7.8.22 and: National construction wildcat on the way as strike wave spreads – libcom.org 7.8.22. All the indications are that this wave of strikes – official and wildcat – will continue and quite possibly escalate.

Away from the workplace, there’s action brewing against the massive hikes in energy prices we’ll be getting hit with in October. At the moment, Don’t Pay UK appear to be the ones leading the fight against the energy bill hikes. As with any campaign that has started from zero and has grown exponentially, it has attracted it’s critics as well as many supporters. Our view is that the Don’t Pay UK tactic of not paying energy bills after October 1st is one tactic among the many that are potentially on offer once you start thinking creatively. We’re pretty sure that the Don’t Pay UK crew are sussed enough to realise that and would welcome other strategies and tactics alongside of what they’re doing. The interesting thing about Don’t Pay UK is that it’s attracting interest and support beyond the usual suspects, with some of it coming from some of the elements involved in the anti-lockdown protests.

It’s not an either/or situation as some have tried to paint it. Other strategies and tactics include community action against any attempts by the utilities to disconnect households who are unable to pay their bills. The kind of action that will leave the utilities in no doubt whatsoever as to the level of anger at the prospect of people being cut off and left unable to heat their homes or cook their food. The kind of action that will necessitate breaking the law but, if the immediate community is united in stopping the bastards disconnecting a household, the authorities will be left unable to pick people off for arrest and punishment. The kind of action where…actually, we’d better stop right here before we get done for incitement!

To add insult to injury, as well as struggling or not being able to pay energy bills after October 1st, people are being bombarded by advice on how to reduce their energy consumption from so called experts who haven’t got a sodding clue how close to the edge many people already are. Telling people about all the laudable but expensive energy saving measures a household could implement ranging from installing solar panels through to cavity wall insulation and forking out on thicker curtains is provocative to say the least when you have sod all left in the bank account! As for the ‘we grew up with ice on the inside of our windows brigade and it didn’t harm us’ brigade, we have this to say – we grew up like that and trust us, it wasn’t good and for a lot of people, it was downright unhealthy! These are just two examples of the bullshit coming out from certain quarters that is only going to rile people up even further.

Rising energy and food costs are going to clobber the hospitality sector. That’s not just the posh restaurants and gastropubs but also your ordinary local pubs and high street cafes who will be hit. Businesses that are only just starting to recover from the Covid lockdowns. The places where people meet to socialise. Places that may well disappear as pub and cafe owners conclude that they cannot afford to keep going. That’s tens of thousands of people being thrown out of work and the loss of many places where we can meet as a community. That means more atomisation and isolation. Atomised and isolated people are easier to control. So, panicked authorities may well see the shutdown of the pubs and cafes we meet in as a blessing in disguise. After all, the last thing they want is us meeting up to talk about how we’re being screwed over and start to plot against them.

The same applies to alternative and radical spaces. While we’ve had a few disagreements with some of the people at Freedom in London and BASE in Bristol, it would be churlish of us to not acknowledge that these spaces run on a shoestring and the goodwill of volunteers are going to find the going tough when the hikes in energy costs kick in. They’re going to need the support of all of us if they’re going to deal with what’s coming…

A sign of things to come – security tags on cheese

With energy prices rising, the cost of producing food will also rise. Already, the cost of a growing number of foods is rising and once the massive hike in energy bills kicks in from October onwards, many producers will be left with no alternative but to pass those costs onto already hard pressed shoppers. That means more people will be forced to rely on foodbanks. The problem is that a number of foodbanks are running out of funding with some having to close: Foodbank shuts its doors due to lack of funding – Norwich Evening News 28.8.22. When you’re skint, unable to pay the energy bill, have little money left for food and then find out that the local foodbank is shutting down, what are you going to do? With a growing number of food items in supermarkets having food tags slapped on them – Supermarkets put security tags on cheese blocks as stores tackle shoplifting amid soaring food costs – Independent 5.6.22 – shoplifting isn’t going to be an option, is it? Looting, however will be… A couple of missed meals and the instinct to survive will make people rethink current notions of what’s right and wrong so, come the middle of winter when energy and food prices have soared and the foodbanks are shutting down, it wouldn’t come as much of a surprise to see some organised looting.

What’s the atmosphere like at the moment? That all depends where you are. There are deprived areas that have been hurting for decades and what’s coming may well push a lot of people over the edge. Anecdotal reports suggest that the atmosphere on some estates is already pretty brittle. The problem is that when things are tense, when someone is pushed over the edge, what happens can end up being nihilistic and self destructive, particularly when people feel so beaten down and alienated that they don’t actually care if they live or die. That’s when things get unpredictable and downright scary.

On the other hand, those with a bit of slack in their finances (for the moment) but who can see what’s coming are at various levels of hedonistic mode, making the most of things before the colder weather and shorter days kick in alongside the soaring prices and shortages. It would be all to easy to condemn this – suffice to say, we won’t be… Everyone has their ways of coping with impending hard times and some of them may well include letting their hair down and making the memories they feel they’ll need to get them through the hard times to come.

One of the big unknowns in the situation is how all of the various currents that can together on the anti-lockdown protests are going to react to what’s coming. For sure, there were some genuine conspiracy theorists out there. However, there were also a fair number of very sussed people with a shrewd idea of what’s going on and why we are where we are. If our comrades and former comrades want to build an effective resistance to what’s coming down the line, they need to be prepared to welcome this. As mentioned earlier, Don’t Pay UK are attracting support from some of the anti-lockdown currents and we hope that this will be welcomed.

Crisis prediction is a mug’s game. We know we’re getting further and further into a clusterf**k situation. There’s an upsurge in industrial action, both official and more interestingly, wildcat strikes. Away from that, anecdotally, we’ve heard there’s a lot of anger out there. How that is going to manifest itself is hard to predict. The only prediction we will make is that when the anger does explode, it’s going to be contradictory and messy. It’s going to be a bumpy ride and if we’re going to make any headway, we need to have our wits about us and be flexible and creative in how we react in what will be a turbulent and complex situation.

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