‘Voices from the ‘Jungle” Stories from the Calais Refugee Camp

To coincide with the publication of Voices from the ‘Jungle’, we present a blog, introduced by one of the book’s editors, Katrine Møller Hansen, and accompanied by the voices of the book’s authors: the Calais Writers.

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This book brings together the personal stories of people who lived as refugees, during 2015 and 2016, in the Calais camp on the northern French coast, just 26 miles from the UK: a camp that was often called the ‘Jungle’. For the authors, that have all left behind CalaiswritersT03221loved ones and a place of belonging, the ‘Jungle’ became home for a short or a longer time. Through poetry, prose poems, diary entries, photography, drawings and conventional accounts they narrate their personal experiences, life stories and they imagine the lives that lie ahead of them. We hear about the borders – geographical, national, cultural and religious – they have crossed, drawn or dissolved on their journeys and in their search for better and safer futures.

The authors want their voices to be heard and they call for audiences willing to listen. Aware that they are becoming objects of distrust and fear and that they have been depicted as benefit cheats, criminals and terrorists, they take control in this book, of their own representation. However, they do not speak in unison. Differences in opinion appear and the stories may ‘disagree’ with each other. Through such conversations, the book displays the human face of the current world crisis. This implies a multiplicity of truths and life trajectories rather than one homogenic narrative or life story. Their collective voices negotiate what it means to belong and to be human and their stories may resonate with any reader that queries into the human consequences of the displacements and human rights violations we witness today.

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Image 1 Photo by Babak Inaloo (from Iran) Continue reading

Rough Sleeping in the 24hr City by Tom Hall

Tom Hall’s Footwork: Urban Outreach and Hidden Lives is a street-corner ethnography that looks at how urban modernisation, development and politics impact on the hidden lives of people living and working on the streets. From the rough hall-t02150sleeping homeless to street drinkers and sex workers, this book reveals the stories of the vulnerable and isolated – people living in the city that we often choose to ignore.

In these extracts, Hall introduces some of Cardiff’s homeless community: Gerald, Paul, Rose, Jackie, Wayne, Damian, Gemma and Carol, looking at how the politics of the urban landscape metes out injustices, limits the right to a home, impacts health and contrives relationships. 

In directing attention to homeless individuals my aim has been to people this book, early on, with those whose lives and difficulties are at stake throughout, if only just a few of them. I feel they are owed some visibility. But I do not want any brief description of individual character and circumstance to be read as a satisfactory, or even part-way satisfactory, account of the problem. Understanding why some people are homeless is best begun somewhere else. It remains the case that homelessness is something that (only) happens to people, however; and that is worth remembering. I have also, at points, obscured things: I have anonymised some of those I am writing about, protecting identities and changing some details – of appearance, sequence of events, particulars. I have done so to afford some privacy to those whose lives are already uncomfortably public. I hope this does not seem inconsistent. I have tried for balance: some visibility, but not too much. Were this book about homelessness, or, rather, about homeless people, things would be different perhaps. Instead, the homeless are a little off to one side of what I am really about here. Their lived circumstances animate others in various ways, as I have suggested, and it is those others, care and outreach workers moving around the city looking out for people in need, that this book is about if it is about any collection of individuals at all. Accordingly, Charlie is Charlie, and Dennis is Dennis, because I know them well and have shared their work; and they know me. Visibility – who sees who and on what terms, who sees their (own) name in print – has to be managed.

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Gerald sleeps (as I write) against the rear wall of the Glamorgan Building in Cardiff ’s civic centre. He may not be sleeping at all, may not have slept much all night, but he has made a place for himself there and has occupied it dependably for the last few months, wrapped in a sleeping bag with his minimal possessions arrayed around him. He doesn’t move much and doesn’t like to be disturbed; he can spend two or three days (and nights) in this same spot without seeming even to stand up. He must sleep some of the time.

The Glamorgan Building, once the county hall of Glamorgan, houses Cardiff University’s Schools of City and Regional Planning and Social Sciences; it is a large, neoclassical, listed (Grade 1) building. I work there, in an office on the first floor with a view out across the city, towards Cardiff Bay. Directly below my window a walkway runs along the side of the building and around a corner to a car park at the back. Here, squeezed between the tarmac apron and the rear wall of the building, under cover of a first-floor balcony and balustrade, are a couple of concrete benches and some bicycle racks; and this is where Gerald has established himself, where he was lying this morning as I passed him on my way into the building. It is a good spot, sheltered from the rain and mostly quiet.

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Why we won’t celebrate the anniversary of the Irish Free State.

It has been 95 years since the formation of the Irish Free State, but the event has an uneasy presence in Irish history, particularly for the radical Left. Kieran Allen, author of ‘1916: Ireland’s Revolutionary Tradition’ and ‘The Politics of James Connolly’, considers why the event that began the process of unraveling the British empire will not be met with fanfare.  

Following the massive centenary anniversary of the 1916 rebellion – comprised of exhibitions, parades and revisions to the school syllabus – it is prudent to ask: will there be a similar celebration of the formation of the Irish Free State? The answer: unlikely.

Almost 95 years ago, on January 16th 1922, the British garrison at Dublin Castle handed michael-collins-dublin-castleover its keys to the IRA guerrilla leader, Michael Collins. The castle had long been a symbol of British rule in Ireland and the transfer of its administration was warmly welcomed by the Irish people. The story goes that the colonial officer in charge of the handover to Collins complained that he was seven minutes late, to which Collins retorted ‘we have been waiting over 700 years’. This display of boldness and its place in the Irish historical imaginary is typical of Ireland’s sanctifying of Collins. A mood of romance and dynamism follows Collins, oft-contrasted with Eamon De Valera; the ‘Irish Machiavelli’. Though the inclusion of the oath of allegiance to the British monarchy in the Anglo-Irish treaty is cited as the reason behind the subsequent civil war, it is implied that the clash of these two personalities led to the subsequent civil war.

These folk tales of Irish history hide a much deeper tragedy. In reality, the vote for the Treaty by a majority of Sinn Fein representatives in the Second Dáil and subsequent formation of an Irish free state was the point at which the Irish revolutionary process was buried. Continue reading

‘Even the President of the United States has to stand naked’: Trump Strips America’s Corrupt Democracy

‘How Corrupt is Britain?’ edited by David Whyte is a collection of powerful and punchy essays that shine a light on the corruption embedded in UK politics, policing and finance. In this article,  David Whyte extends his study of corruption to the U.S., turning his eye to President – Elect Trump’s recent appointments and the continued love affair between the U.S. government and private interests.

Donald Trump’s pitch to the people on the eve of the election in November was that only he could overturn the “years of sordid corruption” in the Washington establishment.   But his earliest appointments are beginning to line up like a familiar identification parade of establishment crooks.

His nominee as Secretary of State is Rex Tillerson the chief executive of Exxon Mobil, a company currently embroiled in a major Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigation for publishing false reports about its assets.  The ‘white nationalist’ Steve Bannon, appointed as White House chief strategist has been exposed for channeling millionaire donor funds through a ‘charity’ to fund his work for the extreme right-wing Breitbart News. nude-trump-1  And Trump’s newly crowned head of manufacturing, is Andrew Leveris, the CEO of Dow Chemicals who was also investigated by the SEC for fraud, although the case has apparently now been concluded.  Perhaps the icing on the cake is the appointment of the climate change-denying corporate lawyer Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

But the alleged frauds that tie those appointments together is really not the headline story.  The headline story is that, perhaps unsurprisingly, they all have a long track record of rabidly opposing any regulation that gets in the way of business.

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Britain is a Country not a Race

Jamaican ImmigrantsSome people seem confused as to what Britain “is”. Today we are highlighting books that offer an alternative perspective on British history and British identity.

When a UKIP candidate recently told Lenny Henry that he should “emigrate to a black country” the mainstream political establishment was quick to repudiate his comments. The Health Secretary, acting no-doubt as the mouthpiece for the Coalition front bench, described the comments as “absolutely disgusting” and said that “Henry is as British as you and I are” – interestingly, however, he did not specifically attack the notion that Britain is a “white country” (presumably the polls are not yet in on how that would play out with the Tory grassroots; let’s not forget we’re only a generation or so removed from Peter Griffiths controversial, and successful, 1964 election slogan).

We here at Pluto abhor racism of any kind and, more importantly, reject the idea that Britain ought to be considered a country with a race attached to it – even if it is a state overwhelmingly governed in the interests of one (a fact we also abhor). The term “Britain” is geographic and when we talk about the British Isles we are talking about a history which has been, at least for the last half millennia, multi-racial. Describing it as “white” even “predominantly white” can only be exclusionary and racist.

So why do we persist in doing so?

The problem, of course, is that history is taught to us within the framework of a state system which has never hesitated to play favourites. As Maya Goodfellow argues today over at New Left Project:

‘This (mis)remembering of Empire, paired with the downplaying of other peoples’ histories, shapes the way minority ethnic people are seen in contemporary Britain. Many within British society continue to believe the folkloric retelling of Empire, which propagates their belief of Britain’s greatness, where great is equated with white people’s superiority over the ‘other’. Consequently, judged against the backdrop of colonialism, minority ethic people continue to be seen as inferior to ‘civilised’, white Britons.’

A major cause of this problem is the identity of those who teach us history. As the Observer has recently reported, “just 17.2% of black African applicants, and 28.7% of black Caribbean applicants were taken on by teacher training institutions across all subjects, against 46.7% of white applicants” and the picture becomes considerably bleaker in the field of history where “only three black people who want to be history teachers were accepted on postgraduate teacher training courses last year”.

Clearly, if we want to learn the real history of Britain, and be able to teach it to our children, we will have to educate ourselves. As a radical publisher our role in that is making books available which consider British history from a non-white perspective as a reminder to our fellow Britons of the diversity which is at the heart of what it means, and will always mean, to be British. There are, of course, too many to mention – which is precisely the point – but we can highlight just two that we think ought to be required reading for every British citizen: Peter Fryer’s Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain and Rozina Visram’s Asians In Britain: 400 Years of History.

Pluto first published Staying Power in 1984 to near universal acclaim. Though Fryer himself was white, his book was widely celebrated by such luminaries as CLR James (“Fryer never loses his grip in time or place”), Salman Rushdie (“Mr. Fryer has my deep gratitude”) and Paul Gilroy, who wrote an introduction to the 2010 edition (“Staying Power is a special book. It has to be recognized as something of a historical phenomenon in its own right”). The reason for the books potency was Fryer’s close involvement in solidarity movements with Britain’s black community, which began as early as 1948 when, fittingly, he covered the arrival of Jamaican workers on the Empire Windrush.

Throughout the writing of Staying Power, Fryer attempted to give voice to individuals who had been excluded from the orthodox (see: racist) writing of history and also emphasized the necessarily internationalist dimension of radical black thought in Britain. The book’s voluminous appendix includes many previous unavailable sources reprinted in full, such as the stirring 1918 inaugural address to the African Progress Union by John Archer – London’s first black Mayor – which called not just for domestic freedoms for black people but also for African independence and self-determination decades before such notions became ‘fashionable’ among guilty white intelligentsia:

‘Too long, much too long, has the Negro race suffered. ‘Mislike me not for my complexion, the shadowed livery of the burnished sun.’ Why should he suffer because of that shadowed livery? As the Prince of Morocco [in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice] pleaded to Portia, so the Negroes of today plead. … [The First World War was], we have been repeatedly told, for the self-determination of small nations and the freedom of the world from the despotism of German rule. The truth of that statement will be proved by the way they deal in America with Afro-Americans, in France with their Negro subjects, in Belgium with their Congo subjects, and in Great Britain with India, Africa and the West Indies. … The children of the white race to-day owe a great debt still to the children of the darker race.’

It was towards the paying of that debt that Fryer submitted his manuscript to Pluto, headed as it was with a quotation from CLR James’ equally formidable work of history Black Jacobins:

‘The blacks will know as friends only those whites who are fighting in the ranks beside them. And whites will be there.’

But, of course, it is not just black people of African and West Indian descent who are excluded from the orthodox history of Britain – the British Asian community’s independent history in Britain begins as early as 1616, a fact often neglected in those Oxbridge histories where persons of Asian descent appear only as subjects of colonial rule. A formidable remedy to this neglect is Rozina Visram’s Asians In Britain: 400 Years of History, first published by Pluto in 2002, and which was immediately recognised by the Times Literary Supplement for its “painstaking research” and force of exposition. As Visram explains in her introduction to the book:

‘Scholars have tended to underestimate the significant presence of Asians and their contributions to British society, and the perception that their settlement in Britain dates from the 1950s persists … The mass of [new] material uncovered has enabled me to trace the history of peoples from South Asia in Britain from 1600, when trading contact between Britain and India first began with the founding of the East India Company. An empirical study, the book examines the nature of Asian settlement, official attitudes to their migration, the varied reactions of the British people to their presence and the differing responses of the Asians themselves … The book also examines the anti-colonial struggle by Asians and their allies in Britain, Asian contributions to British society as well as their role in two world wars.’

If you are serious about history or about Britain then we hope you will read, or re-read, these books and the many, many others – not just those we have published but such classics as Paul Gilroy’s There Ain’t No Black In The Union Jack or Harris & James’ Inside Babylon – which directly challenge the notion of Britain as anything other than a “country” full stop, albeit one which is arguably governed by a racist system of power that seeks to present history from an ideological perspective.