Thursday, 14 June 2012

Drones Conference Moved Out of Bath

The public pressure regarding the planned Bath Drones Conference has had a partial success. The conference has now been moved to the Cranfield University campus in Shrivenham, Wiltshire.

As well as protest groups and members of the public, Councillor Nicholas Coombes has also raised an objection, stating "I am now raising my objection to the conference. It can no longer be said that there was no protest. If this arms show goes ahead, it is not in my name" and also "I may also see you protesting outside the Assembly Rooms in June."  Councillor Paul Fox also stated in the Bath Chronicle "It is not the sort of thing that should be associated with Bath which is a prime tourist destination."

 Protests are still likely to go ahead at the new location, a defence academy.

More letters to the Bath Chronicle from Bath Stop War Coalition here.

Friday, 8 June 2012

Bath Drones Conference - Protests Announced


As reported in my previous posts on the subject, there is a huge drones conference happening in Bath Assembly Rooms from 25th-28th June. Plans are now being drawn up for protests before and during the event, and a petition calling for the event to be stopped can be found here.

So why all the fuss? Drones have many useful civilian uses that don’t involve weapons and killings - such as surveying the condition of rare habitats and searching for survivors following natural disasters. Part of the conference covers uses such as these, and no-one has a problem with this aspect of it. However, a quick glance at the website for the conference reveals that the military get to go for free. Non-military tickets are £2196 + VAT for the full conference. So, anyone with the intent of using drones for the good of humanity and the planet has to cough up a serious amount of money in order to get through the door, but military types who use drones to kill people get to go in for free? Yes, this is the world we live in.

OK, so the entry fee, or waiving of, is the responsibility of the organisers - so lets take a look at them. Clarion Events have the following to say about themselves regarding this matter:

"Clarion Events are the ONLY and FIRST organisation that has a policy of free military delegate places at our conferences. This means that the right people and organisations will attend and network with the RIGHT people."

Until recently, Clarion Events used to focus on events like The Baby Show and The Travel show. They now organise seven arms fairs managed by their Defence and Security department, which include DSEi (Defence Security and Equipment International), the world's largest arms fair, to which a large number of authoritarian regimes have previously attended. Their ethics, it seems, leave a lot to be desired.

So, what's so bad about drones? Drones are unmanned aerial systems that are controlled remotely. Most of them are used for surveillance. The ones that we're really concerned with here are those fitted with weapons, such as missiles, like the Predator and Reaper models. Drones have played a major role in the "War on Terror", featuring prominently in American and British military intervention in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, their efficiency has been called into question. Out of 60 strikes by American drones in Pakistan between January 2006 and April 2009, only 10 hit their actual targets, killing 14 wanted al-Qaeda leaders, and perishing 687 innocent Pakistani civilians. Not only are innocents dying - survivors are becoming suicide bombers out of revenge for the attacks. Pakistan condemns the strikes and claim that they are fueling anti-US sentiment. A prominent lawer for the families of drone strike victims has been denied a US visa. Things haven't got better under Obama - Foreign Policy Magazine recently called him "Bush on steriods" and he holds weekly meetings to discuss drone strike targets. Drone strikes in Pakistan by the US currently occur every other day, with a recent strike killing 17 people. The official line is that these deaths are "militants". However, the Obama administration effectively considers all military-age males in a strike zone as "militants."

America is not alone in these strikes. Britain also has a presence in Pakistan with five armed Reaper drones and have carried out over 250 strikes.

Because strikes can now be carried out remotely, military action in other countries is now far easier and cheaper than before, with much fewer western military casualties - making military intervention and armed attacks more likely. Military pilots have claimed that drone operators cannot be trusted due to lack of contact with real world conditions on the ground and rewards for aggressiveness.

Police interest in drones is growing also, using small drones for surveillance. This article claims that Climate Camp and the Stonehenge summer solstice have been previous targets, and that police are interested in the larger military drones. There is a session by the police at the Bath conference.

At a recent drones conference in Bristol, a noise demo - "drown the drones" - took place outside and was attended by around 80 people.The Bath Drones Conference is bigger than the Bristol conference and several days of action are being planned by Bath Stop the Drones, comprised of members of Bath Stop the War Coalition, Bath Anti-Cuts Alliance, Occupy Bath, Bath People's Assembly, Black And Red Federation, Bath Trades Council, Bristol Against the Arms Trade and Bristol Anarchist Federation.

Plans during the event are yet to be announced in full. The information I have so far is as follows:

Benefit Gig:
'This Ain't Robot Wars' benefit gig for Bath Stop The Drones, Friday 22nd June, downstairs at the Hobgoblin pub on St James Parade, Bath, from 8pm, £3 entry; a night of punk, folko-pop, peace partying and droning on about UAVs; featuring 51st State (peace-punk duo from Somerset), Cosmo (one-man folk/rap/pop from Cardiff) + 1 more tbc

Public March:
Saturday 23rd – public march, meeting at 12:30 at Bath Abbey

Please help the cause by:
  • Telling your friends, family, workmates etc. about the conference and the march. 
  • Share this, and any other articles about the drones conference, on Facebook and Twitter etc. 
  • Write letters to your councillors and to local and national newspapers
  • Turn up for the march, benefit gig and protest events during the conference (to be announced).

Useful Links

Bath Stop the Drones
Bath Stop War Coalition
Bristol Against Arms Trade

Thursday, 7 June 2012

New Bath Anarchist Group Announce Their Existence

A statement forwarded to me from B.A.R.F., a new anarchist group recently formed in Bath:

 "(A) collective of anarchist and radical libertarian activists based around the Bath area and its satellites, committed to bringing about positive change in our lives and beyond. We operate without hierarchy or leaders, and are against all forms of exploitation and oppression, particularly the bosses and goverment. Remember, kids: Capitalism is Chaos, Anarchy is Order."

More information on their website:

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Workfare: We Need to Have a Serious Think About It (Guest Blog)

Here's another guest blog from the editor of The Shittro, this time on the subject of Workfare. More offerings from The Shittro can be found here and, and the previous guest blog for Standing Stone's Blog is here.

You've heard about Workfare right? It's that thing that means that unemployed people can 'volunteer' to work for their benefits.

Many people agree with the use of Workfare. It means that people aren't just doing nothing for their work and soon disability benefits; it means they contribute to society - well not quite. You see, the majority of people that have signed up to Workfare are private companies looking for cheap labour. The well-known users of Workfare include Tesco, Argos, Poundland, Asda, Boots, Buckingham Palace and the Olympic contractors. But hang on, they are providing work experience for these people right?

Yes, they are providing work experience, no one is denying that. But work experience is supposed to benefit the person and it's not supposed to be exploitative, and you aren't supposed to be doing work experience for more than 2-3 weeks. The common thing that people think when going on Workfare is that there will be a job after completing the placement, which 25% of the time is true - most Workfare placements, especially the ones at Asda, Argos, Poundland and Boots, DO NOT guarantee a job at the end of it, meaning that thousands of people are left with nothing other than their unemployment benefit.

The controversial company, A4E, currently being investigated for fraud, should make you question whether Workfare is of any use to this country or not. If not, here are some things that should help you make up your mind:
  • Workfare does not actually help people find a job. The unemployment rate has in fact increased.
  • There is no way that providing 'temporary' placements to JSA claimants will help them get a job because more jobs are being cut than being created.
  • Because of a massive shortfall in public sector jobs, the private sector is being told to create more jobs, which the private sector don't want to do because it costs them more in the short term to hire more people
  • Workfare means that people aren't covered by unions, meaning that claimants can be subject to practices that should be illegal under employment law which don't apply because they are on 'work experience' and not employed
  • It's borderline slavery. They are not gaining anything extra to what they are entitled to anyway, someone has taken this to court but we have not heard back from that yet.
  • Workfare placements actually hinder the job market because it means that real employment can't be used to fill up the places which are taken up by Workfare positions. There is a very chilling story in which Asda sent all of their regular workers home and replaced them with unpaid Workfare 'volunteers'
Despite Workfare being marketed as voluntary, it's not. While 4/5 of the schemes are classed as voluntary, there are stories of people being harassed by the job centre onto going onto the Work Experience or the Work Programme. However, the catch is that if you refuse to do a voluntary scheme you can be forced onto Mandatory Work Activity which, as it says on the tin, is completely mandatory and carries a heavy sanctions scheme. The sanctions have been lifted from the other schemes because of public outcry back in March in which cities all across the UK held host to angry activists demanding Workfare to be scrapped.

Convinced yet? I thought not. The problem we have with Workfare isn't the idea of work experience, it's the fact that this scheme is clearly being used as a front to make money. One person described Workfare as 'an appallingly corrupt and unacceptable scheme', while another said:

'Well this is the fundamental flaw with the work programme, the WP provider (Tomorrow’s People) are responsible for checking employers out and getting reassurances from them that the conditions will be acceptable, as it stands they clearly haven't and their press release was the squirmiest piece of shit I've read in months.'
I've had many complaints from friends, comrades and people online who have told stories about how they feel let down and disheartened by the fact that Workfare has not helped them find a job. One woman was kicked off of a course helping her with her English when she was told to work. Her being able to speak English has a better chance of her finding a job than having experience stacking shelves at Tesco, surely?

To conclude: We need to have a serious think about Workfare and what it's actually doing to this country. Chris Graying calls us 'job snobs' for being anti-Workfare; you know what I call those who oppose workfarce? I call us the heroes of the working class. We are the people standing up to the bullies and slave masters; we demand full pay and rights while they find ways to take that away from us. When they say Workfare, we should all reply with 'unfair'.