May 11th 2021 was the 30th anniversary of the Haringey Solidarity Group in North London. To celebrate we held a special online event looking at some of the activities and struggles the group has been involved in over the 3 decades since its foundation. Those attending contributed some memories and reflections, and some views on what lessons and inspiration we have taken from the past. You can watch the recording of the 90 minutes meeting here.
You can also read our detailed review of the history of the group’s activities, and the wide range of local struggles we have been involved with and supported:
The bigger picture
At the moment, we live in a society based on money and power, where those with wealth and power control all the resources and decision-making – throughout London, the UK and every country in the world. This is unacceptable. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Real, permanent change for the better can only come from people taking over all the decision-making and resources in our society. We can then make the decisions ourselves, collectively and co-operatively, based on what people’s real needs and interests are. We know that this is not only desirable but also practicable and possible as we have seen the seeds of these possibilities in all kinds of movements, uprisings and social revolutions in the past.
Change is an ongoing process, not an isolated event or series of events. There have always been people questioning and challenging the various forms of injustice and oppression being imposed by governments and capitalism…. and standing up for themselves against oppression based on class, race, sex, gender, community, or any other division which the ruling machinery finds useful to maintain its power.
This opposition and resistance takes place continuously – to greater or lesser degrees, with mixed successes or failures – in every community, workplace and every sphere of life, and throughout history. And it always will do. As people question and oppose what’s wrong, they also strive for alternative, better ways of living. Hence the seeds of a better future are in the independent ideas, relationships, culture, activities, struggles and movements all around us.
Things can change very fast depending on all kinds of circumstances: the balance of class forces; economic, social and environmental crises; cultural shifts; increasing expectations; the overlapping or linking up of opposition struggles and movements; the collective realisation that there are real alternatives to the powers-that-be and the way-things-are etc. In such times, groups and campaigns can develop into movements, and movements can inter-link and create counterpower to the established order.
We should encourage, support, and participate in: whatever strengthens people’s independence, awareness, solidarity and mutual aid, co-operation and communication, confidence and determination, and collective vision of how things could and should be. We should discourage, oppose and refuse to participate in: whatever keeps us dependent, ignorant, fragmented and isolated, powerless, lacking in confidence or which restricts our expectations of a better way and a better society.
Local organising, sustained local presence and influence are key building blocks towards making a real difference and achieving long term change.
The role and potential of local organising
- What are the positive local activities, struggles and ideas we want to encourage and be part of?
There are a number of key areas of popular, or potentially popular, activity and opposition:
a. Neighbourhoods and community: Active among local populations there are a wide range of independent groups, initiatives and campaigns rooted in local neighbourhoods – including around residents associations, friends of parks groups, parents’ and users groups in schools, playgroups, libraries, health services and other facilities. There are also often local action groups or residents’ campaigns for specific improvements or purposes. There are also independent mutual aid activities and clubs (eg for sports and other past-times) which can be very positive collective activities in themselves.
We should be encouraging people to take ownership of their neighbourhoods, and of the facilities and services we need. In the short term this means organising local groups and organising empowering local activities; in the medium term it means developing these groups into confident and determined collectives and networks; in the long term it means building up the strength to take control of all decision-making.
b. Workplaces Tens of thousands are employed in a very wide range of workplaces in each borough/town. There is a very wide range of workplaces – from tiny to huge, from shops to offices to factories, producing diverse services and products etc. Workplaces are a crucial yet very distinct part of the community. Obviously workers have a great deal of potential to organise themselves, to fight collectively for better pay and conditions, and to challenge the power of their managers and bosses. They can also question what they are producing and the very nature of their jobs, company or even industry. Traditionally the labour movement has been much stronger than at the moment, but there is still a collective history and forms of organisation, action and struggle to draw on, and there are still many workplace organisations, TU branches and reps, and other forms of activity in which workers try to assert their rights and interests.
Should we get active in the local Trades Council and/or help people set up an independent Local Workers Solidarity Network? Should we publicise libertarian workers organisations like the Industrial Workers of the World and the Solidarity Federation? Or all of those?
Overall, we should be encouraging people to take ownership of their workplaces. In the short term this means organising workplace groups and resistance culture, strikes and disputes; in the medium term it means developing workplace groups into confident and determined collectives and networks; in the long term it means building up the strength to take control of all decision-making.
c. Sections of society There are key sections of society that organise themselves in order to articulate their needs, oppose particular forms of oppression and discrimination etc, and to fight for their interests. This includes women, black and minority ethnic communities, youth, the elderly and the disabled.
We need to discuss these sections of society in much greater depth, and support the movements they have created to resist forms of injustice, discrimination and oppression.
d. Specific ‘single-issue’ campaigns We should support all manner of progressive campaigns. This is an area of activity where some local radical groups have traditionally been very supportive, constructive and effective… but the challenge is to link it with the rest of our ongoing activities. Eg. Anti-cuts, health services, green/sustainability activities, resistance to unwanted urban development, anti-fascism, housing, claimants issues…
e. Radical currents and ideas, including cultural interests The system tries to generate a culture of obedience and consumerism, but there is always an alternative culture based on people’s common sense and humanity, on their co-operation, self-expression etc. As part of this, there is an everyday counter-culture of disgust with oppression in its various forms (class, patriarchy, racism, materialism etc). Local radical groups can help articulate these currents, and encourage a wider resistance culture. This could include social media presence, regular local newsletters, public meetings, film nights and other activities.
Specifically, it is important for us to continue to spread radical, libertarian and anarchist ideas wherever people may be receptive to them – particularly to support people and groups/campaigns that are receptive to radical and revolutionary ideas and strategies.
- What constructive and effective role can a local radical group/network play in these processes?
It is important that we do participate in all the above, where possible, whether as individuals or as a group. We must not let ourselves become isolated or marginalised from our neighbours, workmates and all the people and activities going on around us in our area, or see ourselves as some elite with the ‘right ideas’ parachuting in from on high.
Whilst encouraging and supporting the things above, we should recognise that the various existing organisations and their activities may have strengths and weaknesses, good things and bad things about them. We obviously should particularly encourage the most positive, independent, radical, militant and libertarian aspects of those groups, and promote libertarian ways of organising and decision-making.
We should also encourage people to see the wider context in which they are operating.
- What are our long term priorities?
Apart from doing the basic range of stuff that many local groups already do well in their area (regular meetings and mailings, social media, occasional leaflets on different subjects, supporting specific campaigns, doing newsletters, supporting national radical and anarchist initiatives and events etc) we could focus on actively supporting and participating in community networks, local workplace support networks, and ‘single issue’ campaigns and movements in our local areas.
Pacing ourselves for the long haul
Building on what we’ve achieved so far… We should value greatly all the positive things activists have achieved over the years and are continuing to achieve. We are operating as small networks of people within a wider social context and social reality. However determined or clear-sighted we try to be, we can only do our best within what is possible. This is dependent on what else is going on around us – what groups, struggles and movements there are, and what their character is.
Revolution Let’s hope that the seeds of opposition and everyday resistance around us will grow into major movements and struggles. And that they may then develop into the kind of mass movements that can create a ‘dual power’ situation where people attempt to take direct control of their own neighbourhoods and workplaces and transform society. Governments and business would be seen as unnecessary and objectionable ways to run society and would be marginalised and then abolished. Of course, to be successful, this would have to be part of a UK-wide and global popular grass-roots revolution.
Dave Morris, member of Haringey Solidarity Group