Colin Ward: An Inspirational Anarchist

I was just once in the company of Colin Ward, one of the leading anarchist writers in post-war Britain.  Although I was on the outer edges of the group to which he was chatting, I remember thinking, ‘ what a lovely and fascinating bloke’. Sadly he died  a week or so ago.  He is perhaps best remembered for his writing on housing, his support for the squatters movement in the 1940’s, his advocacy of ‘anarchy in action’, direct, mutual and cooperative self-help.

However his great book from a Youth Work point of view is ‘The Child in the City’. Sadly I lent my copy, never to be returned long ago, but I’ve still got a note reflecting the blurb on its cover.

In an evocative and panoramic account of urban childhood, Colin Ward brings to life the myriad and subtle ways in which the child has used the street in the past and still does today. Against this background he asks whether it is true, as very many people believe, that something has been lost in the way children experience their urban surroundings; why some children show endless ingenuity in exploiting what the city offers while others are isolated and predatory; and what can be done, at a time when a significant proportion of the city’s children have come to be at war with their environment, to make the links between the city and child more fruitful and enjoyable for both.

He wrote in this vein over thirty years ago. And as long as we struggle to ask the questions of and proffer the alternatives to the ‘policing of the child in the city’, his legacy will live on.


A Season of Targeted Goodwill?

I must confess to being deeply prejudiced towards  those who staff the UK’s Border Control zones. I know they’re only doing their jobs, but so many exude the smirking officiousness that accompanies the wearing of uniform. And, of course, their blinkered outlook reflects the instrumental ideology of their management and the government. So often this obsession with targets floats free of the contradictory mess, that is reality. It is devoid of imagination. It pretends to be without politics. It lacks even professional ethics.

This emptiness is symbolised by the UK Border Agency’s Christmas card [click to enlarge], which without irony designs a Xmas tree to celebrate its nationalist success in ‘controlling the flow of migration’.

I am grateful to Jeremy Harding of the London Review of Books for drawing my attention to this smug seasonal greeting – see his piece, ‘Would they have let the Magi in?

Within it he confirms a position the Collective have held for decades. If capital can circulate wherever it wishes, so should labour. Drawing upon the Christmas story Jeremy concludes,

Joseph would probably have been asked to take off his shoes at security, before having his head shoved back down a tunnel in Gaza.

In response Clare Sambrook of the END CHILD DETENTION NOW campaign underlines further the dubious character of the Border Agency’s attempts ‘to ensure fairness’.

This Christmas, as it does every year, the UK Border Agency is holding children against their will in conditions proven to damage their health and sanity, with help from commercial contractors SERCO and G4S , whose shares are evidently a ‘solid buy for these uncertain times’.

These children and babies have committed no crime. Their parents have only exercised their legal right to claim asylum. The government pursues its punitive policy of dawn raids and detention even though, as UKBA’s Dave Wood let slip in evidence to a parliamentary committee lately, ‘absconding is not our biggest issue. It does happen but it is not terribly easy for a family unit to abscond.’ [Hansard]

Seven friends working pro-bono on the END CHILD DETENTION NOW campaign urge people who mind about this to sign the on-line petition at Number10, calling upon the government to stop the forcible arrest and detention of these children and their parents –  No Child Detention

More than one hundred leading writers and illustrators, including Andrea Levy, Quentin Blake, Nick Hornby, Jacqueline Wilson, Benjamin Zephaniah, Kamila Shamsie, Ian Rankin, Carol Ann Duffy, Philip Pullman, Julia Donaldson, have called upon Gordon Brown to stop detaining children.

Author Beverley Naidoo speaks movingly of  running a story-telling workshop with children detained in the Yarls Wood Immigration Centre.

Five locked doors and corridors decorated with murals lead to Crane section for families – mainly mothers with children. We are introduced to the primary teacher. The young lady smiles and we shake hands, but my brain takes time to connect. She is wearing the Serco uniform, with keys attached to her waist. A guard-cum-teacher or a teacher-cum-guard.

As it is we’ve no faith in signing petitions for the perusal of Gordon Brown. With all its dilemmas there is no alternative to creating together the social force that can turn this unjust world upside down.

Looking forward in 2010 to doing our little bit in pursuit of this life-enhancing vision.

In criticism and solidarity

TT [on behalf of the Critical Chatters]

Published in: on December 24, 2009 at 12:24 pm  Comments (2)  
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Chatting with Young People about the ‘Posties’ on Strike

Press coverage of the Communication Workers’ Union dispute with Royal Mail, even when slightly sympathetic, shakes its collective head at the apparent hopelessness of the workers’ situation. We get little insight into the day-to-day experience of the workers themselves. It is not stretching a point to note that this lack of anecdotal analysis chimes with our concern within Youth Work to encourage workers to tell their stories of practice. Thus it is fascinating on a number of counts to read this detailed account of the pressures upon the postal workers and the impact upon their lives of  ‘new managerialism’.

The Diary of Ray Mayall begins:

Old people still write letters the old-fashioned way: by hand, with a biro, folding up the letter into an envelope, writing the address on the front before adding the stamp. Mostly they don’t have email, and while they often have a mobile phone – bought by the family ‘just in case’ – they usually have no idea how to send a text. So Peter Mandelson wasn’t referring to them when he went on TV in May to press for the part-privatisation of the Royal Mail, saying that figures were down due to competition from emails and texts.

I spluttered into my tea when I heard him say that. ‘Figures are down.’ We hear that sentence almost every day at work when management are trying to implement some new initiative which involves postal workers like me working longer hours for no extra pay, carrying more weight, having more duties.

It’s the joke at the delivery office. ‘Figures are down,’ we say, and laugh as we pile the fifth or sixth bag of mail onto the scales and write down the weight in the log-book. It’s our daily exercise in fiction-writing. We’re only supposed to carry a maximum of 16 kilos per bag, on a reducing scale: 16 kilos the first bag, 13 kilos the last. If we did that we’d be taking out ten bags a day and wouldn’t be finished till three in the afternoon.

‘Figures are down,’ we chortle mirthlessly, as we load the third batch of door-to-door catalogues onto our frames, adding yet more weight to our bags, and more minutes of unpaid overtime to our clock. We get paid 1.67 pence per item of unaddressed mail, an amount that hasn’t changed in ten years. It is paid separately from our wages, and we can’t claim overtime if we run past our normal hours because of these items. We also can’t refuse to deliver them. This junk mail is one of the Royal Mail’s most profitable sidelines and my personal contribution to global warming: straight through the letterbox and into the bin.

His tale ends:

Like many businesses, the Royal Mail has a pet name for its customers. The name is ‘Granny Smith’. It’s a deeply affectionate term. Granny Smith is everyone, but particularly every old lady who lives alone and for whom the mail service is a lifeline. When an old lady gives me a Christmas card with a fiver slipped in with it and writes, ‘Thank you for thinking of me every day,’ she means it. I might be the only person in the world who thinks about her every day, even if it’s only for long enough to read her name on an envelope and then put it through her letterbox. There is a tension between the Royal Mail as a profit-making business and the Royal Mail as a public service. For most of the Royal Mail management – who rarely, if ever, come across the public – it is the first. To the delivery officer – to me, and people like me, the postmen who bring the mail to your door – it is more than likely the second.

We had a meeting a while back at which all the proposed changes to the business were laid out. Changes in our hours and working practices. Changes to our priorities. Changes that have led to the current chaos. We were told that the emphasis these days should be on the corporate customer. It was what the corporations wanted that mattered. We were effectively being told that quality of service to the average customer was less important than satisfying the requirements of the big businesses.

Someone piped up in the middle of it. ‘What about Granny Smith?’ he said. He’s an old-fashioned sort of postman, the kind who cares about these things.

‘Granny Smith is not important,’ was the reply. ‘Granny Smith doesn’t matter any more.’

So now you know.

The whole detailed story is well worth your attention and well worth bearing in mind if your young people wonder why folk are forced to go on strike.

Thanks to Peter for the link.

Published in: on November 1, 2009 at 12:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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