Thursday, December 13, 2007

First anniversary of the Ipswich tragedy

English Collective of Prostitutes press statement


We send our deepest felt condolences to the families and friends of Gemma Adams, Tania Nicol, Annette Nicholls, Anneli Alderton and Paula Clennell. Sadly, a year after the tragic murders which took away five precious lives, and despite the unprecedented public outcry which demanded that ‘never again’ should women in Ipswich or anywhere face such violence, women are no safer. The crackdowns which force sex workers further underground making women more vulnerable to violence and exploitation and deterring them from reporting attacks, have returned.

Increasing numbers of people have been pressing for an end to the criminalisation of prostitution. Together with the Royal College of Nursing, Women Against Rape, National Association of Probation Officers, church people, residents from red light areas, anti-poverty campaigners, drug reformers and others, we have formed the Safety First Coalition. But the government continues to target sex workers and increase criminalisation.

Clause 72 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill (CJIB) now in parliament, introduces compulsory rehabilitation under threat of imprisonment. Clause 72 requires anyone arrested for loitering or soliciting to attend a series of three meetings with a supervisor approved by the court “to promote rehabilitation, by assisting the offender to address the causes of their involvement in prostitution and to find ways of ending that involvement.”

Women will be asked to demean themselves by revealing their most intimate circumstances while no resources are being made available “to address the causes”. Yet lack of benefits, debt, homelessness, low wages, loss of child custody, domestic violence, drug or other addiction and a record for prostitution offences which prevents women from getting other jobs, are known factors in driving women into prostitution. Failure to attend the meetings results in a summons back to court and a possible 72-hours imprisonment. If the CJIB is passed, magistrates will have powers to make subsequent orders so that women may end up on a treadmill of broken supervision meetings, court orders and imprisonment. Magistrates will still have the power to impose fines and send women to prison for non-payment of fines. Even the Magistrates' Association has expressed concern.

The government and particularly women ministers claim to be concerned with women’s safety. But since 1997 they have:

· Deterred women from reporting attacks with increased criminalisation.

· Increased maximum fines for loitering & soliciting to £500 for a first offence and £1000 for subsequent offences.

· Promoted the use of ASBOs which have reintroduced prison sentences for street offences by the back door.

· Doubled the number of women in jail. Most are there for ‘crimes of poverty’ including offences related to prostitution.

· Dropped the proposal that women should be able to work together from premises – which is 10 times safer than working on the street.

· Increased the penalty for running a brothel – two women working together often with a maid who provides security – from six months to seven years!

· Used anti-trafficking legislation to increase deportations of immigrant sex workers. Women ‘rescued’ in police and immigration raids are not given resources and helped to apply to stay, but deported.

· Widened the gap between rich and poor. Most sex workers are mothers, mainly single mothers are supporting families. While benefits for children have gone up the benefits for mothers and single people have not: a single mother with one child is expected to live on over £16 a week less than the government poverty threshold; a single woman is on half; debts and sanctions are imposed for truancy and proposed for lone mothers who cannot take up work, make their poverty even worse. The Home Office has reported that survival is the overriding motivation for prostitution.

· Introduced asylum legislation which deliberately makes women, including mothers, destitute.

Safety? What safety?

The English Collective of Prostitutes and the Safety First Coalition can be contacted at:

PO Box 287, London NW6 5QU
Tel: 020 7482 2496, 07811 964 171

For figures on poverty contact:

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Sarkozyism, Gaullism or fascism?

Upon the election of Nicolas Sarkozy there was a strong current in the media – both in France and internationally – claiming that ‘things had changed’. Sarkozy, it was said, was the man who would cut back the ‘gluttonous’ French state, ‘modernising’ the economy by curbing the power of the unions and replacing the France of the 35-hour-week with a new more ‘flexible’ culture that values ‘hard work’. French workers had to prepare for Sarkozy’s onslaught. As we have seen with November’s rail strikes, university occupations and rioting in the suburbs, resistance to Sarkozy is deep-rooted.

Certain activists have been keen to portray Sarkozy as a novel threat, whether that means using the catch-cry ‘Sarko-facho’ (‘Sarkozy-fascist’); portraying him as nothing but a lickspittle of George Bush; or, as the Iranian media now have it, a Mossad agent. Yet most of the French President’s pronouncements seem to be in tune with the anti-working class, conservative and authoritarian political tradition of General de Gaulle. We only have to think back to spring 2006 when the previous UMP [Gaullist] government attempted to introduce the CPE law to undermine young workers’ job stability, or 2005 when it backed the EU Constitution. The continuity in the history of the French right is examined in some detail in the latest issue of the Ni Patrie ni Frontières journal, which devotes some 62 pages to assessing the character of so-called ‘Sarkozyism’.

Sarkozy has taken on great personal power, setting great store by his own image and casting himself as somewhat of a national saviour, in the mould of de Gaulle or a Napoleon. But NPNF argues that the frivolous labelling of Sarkozy as some sort of ‘fascist’ – who thereby ought to be excluded from ‘normal’ politics – is to ignore the real threat he poses in common with any bourgeois government:

Rather than concentrating on his economic and social programme, strongly opposed to the interests of the working class, much of the anti-Sarkozy propaganda makes out that he is more than just an enemy of the working class. A monster.

The assertion that Sarkozy represents an ‘Anglo-Saxon neo-liberal’ current can also be misleading. True, the main thrust of his anti-trade union and privatising agenda is echoic of Margaret Thatcher (hence the nickname ‘Monsieur Thatcher’, a characterisation which he does not seem particularly keen to dispel). Yet the claim that he is not a normal French bourgeois politician, but really just a lackey of George Bush, seems just to reflect the myth of a ‘republican collective’ of ‘traditional’ political debate, counterposed to ‘outsider’ elements not native to French politics:

Most discussion of the alleged Atlanticism of the right has just one goal: reintroducing the age-old threats of the Foreign Party, or even Fifth Column (using chauvinist themes to silence opponents) and, as a result, embolden Gaullist myths. This idea is spouted by a united front running from the [liberal monthly] Monde diplomatique to the PCF [Communist Party] passing via the PS [Socialist Party] and a decent chunk of the UMP [Gaullists]. Ultimately these people want to exalt the “national fabric” of St. Louis, Joan of Arc and General de Gaulle. All of them gargle about the “French mindset”, “French exception”, “French tradition” and other red herrings.

The history of the once million-strong Parti Communiste Francais is indicative here. After participating in the 1936-38 anti-fascist ‘Popular Front’ government of socialists and bourgeois liberals, Communist Party leader Maurice Thorez called upon ‘patriotic’ French far-right goons to join a ‘French front’ against Nazism, and himself joined the French army. After World War II the Communists served in a national unity government with Charles de Gaulle for two years, yet after 1958’s military coup in Algiers, which provoked the downfall of the Fourth Republic and a new administration headed by de Gaulle, he was himself termed a ‘fascist’. Throughout these episodes the rhetoric of ‘anti-fascism’ could be used to justify cross-class alliances, since it represented politics as a battle where ‘anti-fascist’ and ‘republican’ parties fought against ‘fascists’ rather than as a struggle between classes.

Indeed, nowadays crying ‘fascist’ in the face of Sarkozy’s attacks on the working class tends to imply support the opposition Socialist Party – a party with a limited base in the working class and no organic links to the labour movement - instead. Yet, as NPNF points out:

What Sarkozy said in his election campaign pushed the same buttons as Ségolène Royal, his rival in the presidential contest. Both played on the theme of “security”, both are opposed to open borders and free migration, both vaunted the merits of those who “work hard” and “get up early”, and both condemned May 1968, even if for marginally different reasons.

The PS and Royal herself have supported Sarkozy’s ‘modernisation’ agenda, only making the vaguest criticisms. Royal opposed the rail workers’ strike, excusing pensions cuts in much the same way as her British counterpart in Number Ten might. The students’ union UNEF, dominated by the PS, was consulted in the elaboration of Sarkozy’s university privatisation plan, and since then has done nothing to organise opposition. Royal like Sarkozy backs the riot cops in the suburbs, although no doubt could suggest a more ‘touchy-feely’ way of batting down the unemployed black youth. Such is the consensus among the capitalist class that Sarkozy was even able to persuade Bernard Kouchner, a leading figure in the PS, to serve as foreign minister in the UMP government. The parallels between Sarkozy’s fishing for ministers outside the UMP and Gordon Brown’s courting of Digby Jones, Tory MPs and Paddy Ashdown for his “government of all the talents” are clear.

Sarkozy’s individual ‘reforms’ are part of a general agenda of privatisation and casualisation of employment so that France can compete on the world stage, one inherited from his predecessors. There is no solace to be found in supporting liberals and right-wing ‘social democrats’ here, since they share these essential perspectives. But neither does capitalism run by the bourgeois state represent an alternative to the kind of economy that Nicolas Sarkozy and the soft-Gaullist “Socialist Party” alike wish to achieve. NPNF cuts sharply against those who respond to Sarkozy by harking back to the days when the French state had greater penetration in economic life:

What exactly does the word “neo-liberal” mean in a society where most of the means of production rest in private hands and yet the state is the largest employer and has for a long time planned the economy? Have people forgotten that de Gaulle, after 1946, launched an “economic recovery plan” and that from 1958 he used Three-Year Plans?

“Neo-liberalism” is a vague notion even among its supporters, never mind its confused opponents. On the right, it is used to criticise the state’s “redistributive” actions (which in fact consist of taxing single and healthy workers and those who have a fixed job and then giving the money to the unemployed, the ill and people with kids) except when they are in favour of the bosses (you’ve never seen a boss complain about getting a subsidy or an anti-working class law).

On the left and far left it is a means of demanding state control (full or partial) of Capital, without at all calling for the overthrow of capitalism, getting rid of hierarchy, money, wage-slavery and the division of labour. In both cases, the word “neo-liberalism” stops us seeing the possibility of getting rid of wage-labour, as a mode of exploitation, or of the state.

And, much as the PS-PCF government in the early years of Francois Mitterrand’s presidency nationalised certain major industries and infrastructure in order to free up Capital, Sarkozy supports state intervention in the economy where needed:

In Sarkozy’s books and the programme of the UMP it is explicitly said that the state must play a greater role in technological innovation. Sarkozy emphasises that the American state finances innovation via military and space-programme research and via various federal interventions in the private sector, contrary to the official ‘neo-liberal’ ideology.

Hoping that the Socialist Party might take over the reins of government and implement this anti-working class offensive instead, or propagandising for the bourgeois state to run the economy without talking about workers’ management, is a feeble response to a government which wants to attack job stability, benefits and the right of workers to organise. It is a top down answer which makes no reference to workers’ independent political activity or their ability to control and run society.

Sarkozy’s attacks are very real and are contrived to emasculate the working class – but to respond with variants of liberal bourgeois republicanism or nostalgic French nationalism rather than positive agitation for working-class power means relegating socialist politics to the rank of abstract theory.