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Orwell

Orwell is a PC game that sees you take on the role of an investigator tasked with implementing the nation’s ‘safety bill’, by tracking down dangerous extremists. The first part ‘keeping an eye on you’ was released in 2016, with the second ‘Ignorance is Strength’ being released this year.

The game is designed to feel as little like a game as possible, allowing you feel fully immersed as you dig through evidence looking for those responsible for a terrorist bombing. You’ll receive instructions from your handler, scroll through social media, look up newspaper stories, and listen to tapped phone conversations. All allowing you to begin to piece together what happened in a detective like fashion. You’ll soon be starting to to highlight people of interest for surveillance or even arrest, and begin uncovering information about not just your suspects but The Nation itself.

Orwell’s interface cleverly allows you to highlight information taken out of context. You can deliberately use this as a short cut to highlight a suspect, or accidentally end up chasing the wrong person. Either way it shows you the limits of the phrase ‘if you aren’t guilty you have nothing to fear’. As you delve further into the game you’re realise that there is never a single ‘smoking gun’ left by a suspect. That doesn’t mean however, that you can’t piece together a lot about them. By cross referencing hacked emails with public forum posts and media quotes, you can soon build up an eerily complete picture of someone’s life, and reveal the complex plot threads woven by the writers. It might make you think more about the way you use internet more so than any real world article about online privacy.

The name itself, and the other scattered references to 1984, make the views of the game developers, Osmotic Studios, pretty clear. During development they read both fiction and real world accounts of surveillance, trying not just to alert people to it’s existence – but actually make them care about it. However, whilst you are playing, the game doesn’t preach at you like you might expect. Instead, as you play your role, you will uncover uncomfortable truths about the way surveillance works in a way that feels natural. Plenty of decisions will occupy a morally grey zone, forcing you make difficult decisions that will have far reaching consequences. It may even be possible to play through and think total surveillance in ‘the right hands’ is completely fine, though I suspect this would be rather difficult. Like Papers Please before it, this game excels in utilising gamings unique ability to make you feel responsible for fictional actions in a way that films and books struggle to manage.

A sequel was released in 2018, it introduced some interesting new features. Such as the ability to push stories favourable to the nation, or unfavourable to its detractors, via mainstream news sources and linked social media accounts. Unfortunately the game ends quite abruptly not long after this feature is introduced, and a whole feels a bit more straight forward than its predecessor. ■

Orwell: Keeping an Eye on You
5/5 everyone should play this game

Orwell: Ignorance is Strength

3/5 if you really want more!

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A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things

Welcome to the Capitalocene. Humans, at least some of them, are killing everything, from megafauna to microbiota, at speeds one hundred times faster than the background rate. The scale of destruction can’t be simply extrapolated from the excesses of our knuckle-dragging forebears. What has really changed since the 1400s is capitalism – and this is what the book is about: showing how the modern world has been made through seven cheap things – nature, money, work, care, food, energy, and lives.

Take the humble chicken, Gallus gallus domesticus, product of post WW2 freely-sourced genetic manipulation to produce the most profitable fowl. It reaches maturity in six weeks, can barely walk, has an oversized breast, and is slaughtered en masse, at the rate of sixty billion a year. Cheap Nature. In the United States two cents for every dollar spent on fast-food chicken goes to the poultry workers. Cheap Work. Eighty-six percent of workers are in pain because of repetitive hacking and twisting on the production line. Denial of injury claims is common. The result is a fifteen percent decline in income for ten years after injury, so recovering workers depend on family for support – outside the production circuit but central to maintaining the workforce. Cheap Care. So chickens don’t fart methane like cows, but they are bred in huge barns that need fuel to keep them warm. Low-cost chickens require loads of propane. Cheap Energy. Franchising and public subsidies for private profit mitigate the financial risks of commercial sales, right through to the land on which soy is grown to feed the chickens, in China, Brazil and the United States. Cheap Money. Last, persistent acts of chauvinism against animal and human lives – women, the colonized, the poor, people of colour and immigrants, make these six cheap things possible.

Of course there’s resistance, from indigenous peoples whose flocks provide the genetic material for breeding to care workers demanding recognition. ‘The social struggles over nature, money, work, care, food, energy and lives that attend the Capitalocene’s poultry bones amount to a case for why the most iconic symbol of the modern era isn’t the automobile or the smartphone but the Chicken McNugget.’

The Medieval Warm Period ran from around 950 to 1250 across the North Atlantic. Populations swelled, towns multiplied. Europeans nearly tripled in number to 70 million. Agricultural surpluses soared. Relative prosperity fuelled expansionism. Beginning in 1095, the Crusades were commercialised military operations targeting the wealth of the eastern Mediterranean. Conquest was made to pay by imposing tribute; the forerunner of colonial capitalism. The greatest conqueror of all, however, was cultivation; by the fourteenth century, agriculture took up a third of all European land use, a sixfold increase in 500 years, much of it at the expense of forests.

Then famine returned with colder, wetter weather. Massive rains struck Europe in May 1315 and did not ease up until August, ending with a cold snap. Europe’s population shrank by twenty percent in five years and the so-called Great Famine continued until 1322. This was the Little Ice Age that lasted until the 19th century. Feudalism crashed, not least because feudal lords wanted cash or grain, and they consumed any surpluses rather than reinvesting in agriculture. Left to their own devices, peasants would probably have shifted to crop mixes, including garden produce. Peasant autonomy would have allowed medieval Europe to feed up to three times as many people. But the transition never happened. In 1347 the Black Death struck an already weakened population. Almost overnight, peasant revolts became large-scale threats to the feudal order.

Repressive legislation to keep labour cheap, through wage controls or outright re-enserfment, was the response, for example England’s Ordinance and Statute of Labourers. ‘The equivalent today would be to respond to an Ebola epidemic by making unionisation harder’, the authors write.

Capitalism was born out of this mayhem. Ruling classes didn’t just seek to restore the surplus but to expand it, and it was the Iberian aristocracy that stumbled on a solution, especially in Portugal and Castile. To make war with the Moslem powers on the peninsula – the Reconquista – they depended on financiers. War and debt remade society and spurred the earliest invasions of the Canary Islands and Madeira. ‘The solution to war debt was more war, with the payoff being colonial profit on new, great frontiers.’

Madeira was a case in point. In the 1460s a new way for producing food took shape. One traveller reported in 1455 there was not a foot of ground on the island not covered in great trees. By the 1550s it was hard to find any wood at all. The reason: sugar production. It had arrived in Ibera by the 14th century and by 1420 it was being grown commercially, funded by German banks and cultivated near Valencia by a mix of slaves and free workers. In the 1460s and 1470s farmers on Madeira gave up wheat and grew sugar exclusively. The sugar frontier spread to other islands in the Atlantic, then on a massive scale to the New World. And like palm and soy monocultures today, it rapidly exhausted soils, cleared forests and encouraged pests. As for the workers, they were indigenous people from the Canary Islands in the case of Madeira, North African salves and in some cases paid plantation labourers from Europe.

When Madeira’s trees were all consumed, sugar production crashed. Capitalism reinvented itself. After sugar came wine, the casks being imported from the ‘cheap’ forests of the New World. Commodities flowed the other way: Madeira was a conduit for the African slave trade, and in a more recent reinvention, today that grim history is exploited and marketed in the form of tourism.

Here then, is the central theme of this highly readable, heavily-sourced book: ‘Capitalism not only has frontiers; it exists only through frontiers, expanding from one place to the next, transforming socioecological relations, producing more and more kinds of goods and services…For capitalism, what matters is that the figures entered into ledgers – to pay workers, to supply adequate food for workers, to purchase energy and raw materials – are as low as possible. Capitalism only values what it can count and it can count only dollars…this means that the whole system thrivers when powerful states and capitalists can reorganise global nature, invest as little as they can, and receive as much food, work, energy and raw materials with as little disruption as possible.’ ■

A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things, by Raj Patel and Jason W. Moore, Verso, 2018. ISBN: 978-1-78873-213-0

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Brexit and Workers

We’ve previously written a few things about the 2016 referendum which led to the process of Britain’s exit from the European Union. As the time gets closer we look at what the currently uncertain situation means for workers. Before we get on to the specifics, we make some more general points about Brexit. In Organise 87 (Winter 2016) we said:

Much media space is devoted to speculation about what Brexit will mean. There is even some doubt about whether despite May’s strong assertions that she will make Brexit work, that it will go ahead. She certainly is taking her time about it. After all, key sections of the British ruling class did not want Britain to leave the EU. They want the cheap labour and the financial sector is concerned that it will lose its central role in international financial markets. Also, the Scottish response to the outcome, which could lead to independence, would be a major blow to UK Ltd. One thing is certain: the working class will continue to suffer from low wages and high housing costs, poor working conditions and job insecurity and cuts in public services and the welfare state.

We don’t think the outcome will offer opportunities for a ‘socialist Britain’ as some leftist supporters of exit from the EU have argued. There may be less trade with the EU but instead it will be others, such as China and India, which will step in. We have already seen May’s cosying up to the Chinese [state] and the London Mayor Khan appointing an Indian millionaire to be his advisor on ‘opening-up’ London. Within days of the referendum, a Japanese company bought up a British one. So we are really just changing one set of bosses for another. What does matter is the reasons why most people voted to leave: immigration. The EU was about free movement of labour for capital, but at least there was free movement. Leaving the EU can only mean that there will be pressure to curtail immigration. The rise in attacks on migrants from Eastern Europe is a sign of the mentality of some far-right and racist elements in the working class. This xenophobia is a major obstacle to building an effective working class revolutionary movement.”

If we add the centrality of the Irish border question to the ongoing headache for politicians and a major concern for people living both sides of the border, the situation has not exactly moved on from our initial analysis, in spite of the blow by blow negotiations.

Impact of Brexit on workers

Being fought on the basis of sovereignty with a large dose of English nationalism, Leave was always going to legitimise discrimination against foreign workers and act to erode those workers’ rights in Britain more than Remain would. This is because European legislation offers some protections to migrant workers from within the EU and also includes some protection of human rights of non-EU people, as well as the ‘freedom of movement’ afforded by the treaty and in the Schengen area.

Of course, the European Union is a capitalist institution working in favour of the bosses to keep workers exploited efficiently. Capitalism likes free movement of people so that the workforce can go to where the work is at its own expense. Because of obsession with sovereignty and national identity, migration has dominated the discourse of Brexit. However, those in charge of capitalist economies like Britain’s, which has moved towards knowledge-based (quaternary) industry, are still going to want to manage the workforce required to support it. So at the same time as putting massive pressures on workers with fewer skills or less education ‘at home’ bosses will also continue to look globally for workers who can fulfil the needs of the modern economy. Ideally it wants people who will not need too much healthcare, can look after their family with what they are earning, pay taxes, whether they are British or not. Brexit in no way means moving back to a less knowledge-based economy.

As well as in industry, a real crisis will continue to exist in services, especially health and social care because the neo-liberal state and business alike do not really want to pay to support people at home who are ill, have a disability or are older with greater health needs, that means they are less productive. The state (especially under the Conservatives) is not prepared to pay more to local authorities and may be more than prepared to see them cut services further leaving people to fend for themselves, using this as a justification to bring in privatised alternatives. Controlling the workforce overall includes bringing people in from abroad with more precarious positions – tied to the employer for fear of losing residency status or with controlled periods of employments – something Brexit will help make easier. Non-EU workers are already bound to their employer unless they can find another job quickly and easily. This was a major part of the beef at Fawley oil refinery (the 2009 struggle that led to Gordon Brown’s oft misquoted ‘British Jobs for British workers’) as Italian workers were essentially indentured even though they were EU, kept on-site in portacabins earning vastly less.

Even if Britain remains in Europe there would still be the continued threat of multinational (e.g. American-owned) companies being invited to run the NHS and other services. With a suitable Brexit agreement, and even with ‘no deal’, it may simply mean that EU companies will be able do this as well, with favourable tax conditions if they play the game and don’t insist on workers’ rights alongside being allowed to operate in UK. Some of the industries that would no doubt be interested would be in construction, energy, IT, research, education, as well as the health and care providers. This is a gamble though as they will need to make the wages attractive enough so that it is worthwhile for someone to work in UK while having no right to stay outside of the job, relative to opportunities for work in the person’s home country or another EU country where they would have the right to settle. A lot of the above speculation will depend on whether Britain stays in the Customs Union as this will influence how goods move around and this in turn will influence where businesses need workers to reside to make profit. It will also depend on how freely the EU will allow its member states to trade with Britain post-Brexit.

On the other hand, multinationals based in Britain and British-owned companies alike will not hesitate to move abroad if more advantageous to them than staying. Even small British-owned companies already operate abroad. When US companies like Motorola abandoned their production lines in Mexico for Asia, British companies quickly moved in to pick up the factory space and the skilled local workforce – such was the flexibility that globalisation allowed. British companies could decide to move some or all of their operations to Europe if profitable and if allowed to do so, with the support of the British state.

Migrant workers

Overall European migrants make up 5% of the population in England and an estimated 3.5-3.8 million EU citizens in the UK will be required to apply for settled status post-Brexit. For EU workers in Britain now, there is massive uncertainty about residency status as it’s not clear how and if they will be allowed to stay after Brexit. Again the situation for non-EU migrants in instructive. Non-EU workers can generally get a visa to stay in UK for up to 6 months. However people from non-EU countries are already making difficult choices if they are allowed to stay and work longer, some working overtime to hit the required wage threshold to be able to work in UK on their own or with family (which is a higher threshold). Also, it is probably not common knowledge to many British people that the minimum annual earning threshold for non-EU workers was raised pretty well overnight in 2016 from £25k to £35k leading to many US and Australian workers having to leave (as reported in the media at the time), which was subsequently lowered back to £30k in 2017. Is very likely that the government will fiddle with the rules a lot like this after Brexit making relocating to UK very risky for lower paid workers.

The body that has made the most detailed recommendations about European Economic Area workers coming to UK post-Brexit, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), published a report in September 2018 – recommendations from which are not substantially affected by May’s most recent Brexit ‘deal’. The headline from the MAC was ‘No preferential access’ for EEA citizens after Brexit (something lovingly rephrased by Theresa May in November 2018 as stopping EU migrants “jumping the queue” versus workers from Australia or India). It also lumped workers of different occupations or skill level into the same scheme except possibly a separate seasonal agricultural workers scheme. Any low-skill gap would apparently be filled by family migration linked to other workers (e.g. spouses) and an expanded Youth Mobility Scheme (allowing younger people to come to UK for 2 years ‘working holiday’ from named countries) which seems unlikely to be fulfilled in practice since it is known that many YMS migrants take higher skilled posts albeit on a temporary basis. So the main change after Brexit is for the category of ‘Tier 2’ sponsored workers to include European in addition to non-European workers with the removal of a cap on the annual number of visas which is currently 20,700 people at the £30k level mentioned above (rising to £60k above the threshold), plus some other amendments. These are precisely the practically indentured workers mentioned above and this recommendation would put most skilled migrant workers in the same boat, once freedom of movement in the EEA is lost. However, in order to placate the anti-immigration lobby, May subsequently suggested that visas for lower skilled workers could be limited to 11 months and have restrictions on families, which would act to prevent or discourage settlement.

Another recent development was a pilot project in November 2018 that the government launched, focussed on universities, health and social care, which they are using to work out the scale of the task, how to administer the scheme, and to fast-track some key workers the state does not want to lose. These are already workplaces with considerable casualised and/or mobile workers. 16% of university researchers are from other EU states and 23% of academic staff in biology, mathematics and physics are EU nationals. Furthermore, EU immigrants make up about 5% of English NHS staff overall, 10% of registered doctors and 4% of registered nurses. However, a major criticism was that the pilot scheme started with the worker only and not family members, leading to criticism from both Wales and Scotland health secretaries, plus trade unions criticised the £65 fee and are demanding that employers pay this on behalf of the individual, such that the fee has already been covered by some institutions.

British workers’

Workers who are British citizens will face ongoing economic pressures due to austerity as now, worse if the economy takes a dive. And there are a good number of gender-related workplace issues that are created by Brexit. Although incorporated into the 2010 Equalities Act, equal pay for women arises from the 1957 Treaty of Rome. Rights of part-time workers (pensions, parental leave entitlements) and protections for pregnant women at work also come from the EU. Imposition of employment tribunal fees was fought using EU law by Unison in 2013 on the grounds of it being discriminatory because the majority of low paid workers are women. After Brexit, it is quite possible the UK government could try and amend the law in the interest of the economy. Furthermore, the government has already indicated that women might need to choose home over work in order to look after elderly relatives post-Brexit if there is a social care staffing shortage! This kind of statement, from the Department of Health in August 2018, only shows how controlling the state is prepared to be if necessary.

While we don’t yet know what will happen, it’s clear that Brexit has serious consequences for workers. The situation for lower paid workers who might consider coming to UK after a break with the EU looks particularly grim with a constant eye having to be kept on wage levels and time worked. Even higher paid workers are likely to have jobs that are tied to their employer, and risk losing residency if their employment ends, so taking industrial action will be riskier. At home, women are likely to be adversely affected and equality legislation could well be put to the test.

Although quite speculative, it seems hard to see how the state will control migration to such a fine degree (such as work visas of less than a year) without additional checks by NHS and other bodies, which could end up making introducing national identity cards for the whole population more likely. The last time a national ID scheme was proposed and defeated (by No2ID and the anarchist campaign Defy-ID in 2005-9), it was migrants (notably asylum seekers) who ended up with biometric ID cards – and biometrics were added to passports around the same time. Furthermore, the move to more electronic record keeping in the NHS and e-Gov means they are more able to track individual entitlements, although not without some opposition to the ‘hostile environment’, against workers becoming ‘border police’ e.g. ‘Docs Not Cops’.

Opportunities

On the brighter side there may be opportunities to fight for better pay, if workers stick together. In our workplaces and political organisations we need to keep alert and see how we can support each other. Workplace meetings are a good start, especially so that migrant workers are not isolated. While we cannot do much about the process of Brexit as this is in the hands of the politicians, we can get ready for its consequences. This should include being ready defend co-workers and comrades who may face leaving the UK if they fail a yet to be determined residency test, mounting anti-deportation campaigns it comes to that (anarchists who have prior experience with No Borders and migrant solidarity have a lot to give here). We also need to keep an eye on what is happening in other countries. Whilst workers have experienced relative freedom of movement in the EEA, and with more countries being part of the EU, it should have been easier to point out common class interests, although the British Left has failed to make much of this recently, being focussed on domestic politics and the far right. On a practical level, having the EU has arguably made direct resistance easier – coordinated action against borders and in support of migrants (within and from without the EU) and against international economic summits of the political class. Anarchists have been at the forefront of this transnationalism and our own international blossomed in this period to include the Balkans, for example, so we hopefully have something to build upon. ■

See also: www.afed.org.uk/counting-us-in-counting-us-out/

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Danielle Myriam – Rest In Power

At the start of the year we lost a long time comrade and a dear friend of several members to her own hands. She was a lively soul who would often get lost in science fiction and loved to share the ideas for a better worlds she found in her reading, Worlds she worked towards by putting her considerable skills to work for several groups working hard to make the world a better place.


I first met Danielle, in a midge infested Scottish field where they were fighting against the industrial destruction of the environment for capitalist gains. She was full of passion and fire, we had a wonderful hike running recon that I’ll never forget, A few days later we spent the day lay down, locked on, talking about The Culture series. We spent a night in the cells together for that and what a night. We spent it discussing and arguing politics, science fiction and boardgames. She spoke against the atrocities of this world with an erudite, compassionate voice and changed fundamentally who I am and how I approached the revolution.

She taught me to listen, to understand and put mutual aid and solidarity with the oppressed at the core of my politics. I’m sure on her travels she planted many such seeds and made the world a better place.

Unfortunately the world is not always a better place and when it came to transitioning she was hit with an uphill struggle. In the words of her close friend Alice:

“In a large part, it was transphobia that meant she could no longer face life.
It was having her gender questioned and doubted and fetishised and mocked in popular culture, and most painfully of all, amongst those that pre TERF wars, (TERF is someone who is anti trans people, but claim to come from a progressive, feminist, perspective) she would have thought were on the same side as her, as an Anarchist. … She is not with us because the world is transphobic. When we argue with those who use language that insults, minimises, fetishises or stigmatises trans people its not just an abstract political theoretical debate. These things matter. Real people suffer. Their lives are made unliveable. And we lose dear people from the world, and from progressive political movements.”

Those who knew her will mourn her passing with love and fury in their hearts.
Please take time to reflect on those around you, touch base with your mates and hug your comrades. Suicide can sometimes happen in a moment of passion but often it builds up over time, the depression permeating every aspect of your life until you feel unable to carry on. If your mate’s sharing dark memes, check in on them, let them know you love ’em. Give your transitioning pals a hug and tell them they are valid and worthy.

We will miss you forever sister.
Thank you for the last night we had playing games and chatting shit.

As she might have qouted “The light that burns twice as bright, burns half as long.” and she burned so very, very brightly.

She will not be forgotten.

Rest in Power x

If you are suffering from depression, trauma and/or suicidal thoughts, please contact a friend or family member before you do anything drastic. Let them know what you are going through, contact a helpline, talk to folk, surround yourself with people and weather through this storm with those who love you.

You are not alone, you don’t have to go through this on your own. You are not an island and your existence is important to those around you.

Helpful numbers:-
MindLine Trans+ – 0300 330 5468
Samaritans – 116 123
LGBT+ helpline – 0300 330 0630
Young Minds Crisis Messanger – Text 85268