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World Hijab Day

For the right of women to wear what they want


As part of a global movement, a broad movement from civil society is organising a rally on International World Hijab Day on Tuesday, 1st February 2022. It will take place at 2.30pm on the square in front of the Rathaus Neukölln.

The 1st February, is the tenth anniversary of the call from hijabis throughout the world for the recognition of millions of Muslim women who have chosen to wear a hijab and to live humbly.

In around 190 countries, men, women, hijabis and children from all groups and none take part in World Hijab Day. Numerous volunteers, ambassadors and activists are part of this action.

The aim of the action is to increase awareness for the hijab as a symbol of self-determination and not oppression. These representatives come from different lives, but aim to strengthen a shared vision. The initiative is supported by many internationally well-known people, including scientists, politicians and celebrities.

Our aim is to create a world in which we are united in our diversity. Through consciousness, education and empowerment, we want to dismantle the stereotyping and discrimination against Muslim women which prevails in this country.

As part of a global movement, we call for religious tolerance, cosmopolitanism, cultural understanding and international solidarity. For a world, and a Germany, in which Muslimas can proudly and freely express their belief, irrespective of political beliefs and economic interests – united through our diversity.

We look forward to a large attendance in the name of the self-determined women of our country.

Radio Berlin International #3 – Tribute to bell hooks [Audio & Transcript]

Originally broadcast on on 23 January 2022, in this episode we pay tribute bell hooks and discuss the boycott of the Sydney Festival.

Originally broadcast on on 23 January 2022, in this episode we pay tribute to bell hooks, the black feminist writer who died on 15 December 2021 and was a huge influence on justice movements in Berlin and around the world.

We also discuss the boycott of the Sydney Festival in solidarity with Palestine, as part of the global campaign for a cultural and economic boycott of Israel.

This episode’s guest is Doris Ghannam, member of BDS Berlin ().

This episode is produced and presented by Axmed Maxamed and Tom Wills.

The studio engineer for is Noemie Cayron.

Episode’s playlist

  • Lil’ Kim – Queen Bitch
  • Ice Cube – We Had to Tear This Mothafucka Up
  • Barkaa – OUR Lives Matter

Axmed’s recommended reading/viewing

Please tell us what you think of the show by emailing Don’t forget to include your name and where you’re listening from, and we’ll read out as many messages as possible on the air.

Don’t miss our next show live on 88.4 MHz in Berlin, 90.7 MHz in Potsdam and online at at 7pm on Sunday 6 February.

You can hear previous episodes of Radio Berlin International here.


Axmed: Hello, hello, and welcome to Radio Berlin International. It’s Sunday, the 23rd of January 2022. The time is 7:00 p.m. and we are live on Reboot FM 88.4 in Berlin, 90.7 in Potsdam and worldwide on The show is being presented today by myself, Axmed Maxamed and Tom Wills.

Tom: Radio Berlin International is on every two weeks to introduce you to the people of Berlin fighting for a better world. And it’s brought to you by Today’s show is a special episode paying tribute to bell hooks. The black feminist writer who died mid-December and was a huge influence on justice movements in Berlin and around the world.

Axmed: In the next 60 Minutes, we’ll be listening to music and archive recordings from some of the people who were part of bell hooks’ work, as well as an archive interview with the writer herself.

Tom: And after that, we’ll be hearing why dozens of artists have pulled out of the Sydney Festival this month in solidarity with Palestine, with a live guest in the studio here in Berlin.

Axmed: Yes, and we would love to hear from you, of course and what do you think about any of the things we talk about this evening. You can email us at any point during the show, at Don’t forget to include your name and where you are based. And where you’re listening from. It can of course be the same place. We will read out as many messages as we can on the air.

Tom: Or if you want to reach Axmed directly, then you can do that by email as well. That’s Either way, we’d be delighted to hear from you.

Axmed: Yes, we would. And now let’s get into the first part of the show, which is about bell hooks. bell hooks’ work has been fundamental to so many around the world, myself included. She’s by far the thinker and author that has had the most impact in my life, on many different levels, and is the author that I read the most of. In addition to her extensive bibliography, she has published more than 30 books, including children’s books. She also put time and energy into having conversations on public platforms with academics, fellow authors, public figures and so on. We would like to highlight two conversations bell hooks had with two artists, namely Lil’ Kim, the Queen Bee. The original Queen Bee, of course, and Ice Cube.

To the dismay of a lot of fellow academics and feminists, mostly white feminists, who weren’t really happy that she had these conversations. But bell hooks refused to denounce ‘gangsta rap’, and I’m using air quotes here. She didn’t want to be part of the perpetuation of what she called “sensationalist drama of demonizing black youth culture”, which was the norm in both academia and still is in some perspective and in white mainstream media. While the same white mainstream media was not interested in “her hardcore critique of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy” as hooks said in the chapter called ‘Gangsta Culture, Sexism and Misogyny, who will take the rap’ in her book ‘Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations’.

hooks’ conversation with Ice Cube ended up as a chapter, and the aforementioned book, ‘Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations’, published in 1994 and her conversation with Lil’ Kim was a cover story in PaperMag in 1997, which is still available online on the PaperMag website. But before we play a song by Lil’ Kim, I would like to share a quote from the conversation. So this is a quote from bell hooks’ from the conversation she had with Lil’ Kim.

“More dangerous than any words that come out of Lil’ Kim’s mouth are the forces of repressive puritanical morality that seek to silence her.”

I’d also like to mention professor Greg Thomas’ book ‘Hip-Hop Revolution in the Flesh: Power, Knowledge, and Pleasure in Lil’ Kim’s Lyricism’

[Song playing]

Axmed: Welcome back. So that was ‘Queen Bitch ‘by Lil’ Kim from her debut album Hard Core, and it was, after this album came out that bell hooks and and Lil’ Kim had the conversation for the PaperMag article.

Tom: And so bell hooks was a cultural critic as well as many other things. And this move to actually seek out these very well-known artists like Lil’ Kim and meet them was a deliberate and very powerful tactic. Wasn’t Axmed?

Axmed: Yes, absolutely.

Tom: Because as well as being a way to call out the censorship and the scapegoating of black artists that you just mentioned. It also meant that bell hooks feminist ideas were brought to a wider audience than most other academics who are happy to stay in their ivory towers.

Axmed: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Because she refused to not have conversations with, especially young black people and black artists and so on. And I wanted to quote from the conversation that she had with Ice Cube before we listened to the track. And I thought that the very beginning of the conversation would be very fitting. So this is a quote from the conversation. “People have been really, really excited about me talking to you because they think that we exist in worlds apart, because I do feminist theory and all this other stuff. But one of the reasons I really wanted to talk to you is that I feel very strongly that black people have to talk to each other across our differences. I’ve been listening to Predator a lot, and I wanted to know whether you’re trying a wider range of musical styles, making this kind of a softer album even though the lyrics are still tough.”

[Song playing]

Axmed: That was Ice Cube with ‘We Had to Tear this Motherfucka Up’ from his 1992 album ‘Predator’, which bell hooks also mentioned in the quote before we played the track. I would like to share another quote from ‘Outlaw culture’ which isn’t a quote from the interview. “Witness the recent piece by Brent Staples in the New York Times, entitled “The Politics of Gangster Rap: A Music Celebrating Murder and Misogyny.” Defining the turf, Staples writes, “For those who haven’t caught up, gangster rap is that wildly successful music in which all women are ‘bitches’ and ‘whores’ and young men kill each other for sport.”

No mention of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy in this piece. Not a word about the cultural context that would need to exist for young males to be socialized to think differently about gender. No word about feminism. Staples unwittingly assumes that black males are writing their lyrics off in the ”“jungle,” faraway from the impact of mainstream socialization and desire. At no point does he interrogate why its huge audiences, especially young white male consumers, are so turned on by this music, by the misogyny and sexism, by the brutality. Where is the anger and rage at females expressed in this music coming from, the glorification of all acts of violence? These are the difficult questions that Staples feels no need to answer.

One cannot answer them honestly without placing accountability on larger structures of domination (sexism, racism, class elitism) and the individuals—often white, usually male, but not always—who are hierarchically placed to maintain and perpetuate the values that uphold these exploitative and oppressive systems. That means taking a critical look at the politics of hedonistic consumerism, the values of the men and women who produce gangsta rap. It would mean considering the seduction of young black males who find that they can make more money producing lyrics that promote violence, sexism, misogyny than with any other content. How many disenfranchised black males would not surrender to expressing virulent forms of sexism if they knew the rewards would be unprecedented material power and fame?”

Tom: And the track that we heard from Ice Cube is, of course, very political as a lot of his work was. It was a protest song and it came after the acquittal of the police officers who were recorded on camera, brutally beating Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1994. And when we think about Black Lives Matter and the righteous outrage that has been generated when police brutality has been caught on smartphones, some people might think this is a recent phenomenon. But I think that Ice Cube’s track is a reminder of how long people of color have been targeted by police brutality and how long the whole world has been witnessing that, including on TV and on video.

Axmed: Yeah, and the Rodney King incident was in the 90s. There was the Watts Riots, Watts uprising I should say that was in the 60s. So this has been going on for so long, and the music that comes out of the neighborhoods that are terrorized by these, by the police forces reflects that environment.

Tom: The recording we’re going to hear next is from 1999 and may also trigger feelings of deja vu. We’re going to hear the voice of bell hooks herself, and this time she is the one being interviewed, by Professor Barbara Ransby, a historian at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The interview covers issues of sexual harassment in the workplace, feminism and anticapitalism, spirituality, writing and activism–themes that are just as pertinent today as they were then. I think it gives a bit of a flavour of the incredibly wide range of issues that bell hooks tackled, and at the time of this interview she was only on her 17th book. The interview was originally transmitted on WBEZ in Chicago, and we’re very grateful to WBEZ Archives for their kind permission to rebroadcast this recording.

Professor Ransby begins by asking bell hooks about how she has blended her identities as a writer, as a woman, and as a Black American.

Recording starts

bell hooks: Women writers of all races and black women writers in particular and women of color are accused of being too focused on identity. When we get up in our day and we go to the business of writing, we’re not actually thinking I’m a woman or I’m a black person or I’m gay or I’m straight or whatever. We’re just thinking about words and writing. But it’s when we encounter a world outside the space in which we create that those labels take on meaning and significance, and that we have to respect the meaning and significance that are imposed upon us by the very systems of racism or sexism. And so many people will say to me, Well, why do you even talk about this? And I say, Well, we don’t talk about this because we want to talk about it.

The fact is as Tillie Olsen so beautifully tried to tell people years ago in her book ‘Silences’ that there was a time when there were very few black writers who wrote more than one book. The vast majority of women of all races did not write more than one book. And so that in fact, it took political focus on these very questions of identity to create the kind of climate where we can now enter bookstores and find so many books written by women written, by people of color, women and men. And that’s a fairly recent phenomenon, and people forget that.

And one of the things that I keep emphasizing in ‘remembered rapture’ is the fact that black women particularly have not come to as greater prominence writing nonfiction works as people think. You know, people think this is a heyday for black women writers, and some people will even say there’s so much focus on black women writers that black male writers have had to step into the background. But I always begin my classes by having my students write down on a piece of paper how many black women writers do they read and know about? And they usually can’t get past 10 so that we, you know, people know about Terry McMillan and Alice Walker and Toni Morrison. But in fact, there’s still so much work that hasn’t been done. So much kind of writing that black women have yet to enter into the space of writing certain kinds of books.

Prof Barbara Ransby: Yes, I think you strike an important balance between writers who succumb to a narrowly defined identity versus those who would argue that art and literature are somehow insulated from issues of race, class and gender. And I think it is a balance because you talk also about liberating yourself from being narrowly defined as a black feminist writer. At the same time, you understand and make very eloquent points about the need to understand this larger world in which we write, live, et cetera.

bell hooks: But I’m also passionately interested in writing about aspects of black life that have not been written about before, so that it’s not a contradiction that I don’t think that we need to be confined to certain subjects at the same time that there are particular issues having to do with blackness that I want to write about and I want to write about them from the standpoint of both a student of certain aspects of African-American culture and black culture in the diaspora, and from my perspective, as a feminist thinker, all of those things. And so what I keep saying to people, the point for me is never to get stuck. It’s to be able to feel that I can speak with the same authority about race or gender as I can about issues that are perceived to be more transcendental issues, love, death, all of those issues.

Prof Barbara Ransby: I’d like to also talk about the content of your writing years ago when ‘From Margin to Center’ was published. It was very provocative politically and I think expanded the discourse around black politics in terms of personal issues, in terms of issues of internal democracy within movements, for social change. So for activists, I think your writing offers a lot of challenges and insights. Can you talk a little bit about where you see the feminist movement today? Or do we still have a feminist movement and where you see black politics and how your work, although in a very personal form in some of the more recent works, is helping to get at some of the larger political issues that women and people of color and oppressed people are grappling with.

bell hooks: Well, I think that for white women in our culture as a whole and black people, there’s a real conservative political movement afoot. And so that a lot of the kinds of issues that were so galvanizing to us, the kind of radical critiques of capitalism, of white supremacy, of patriarchy have diminished some, as people assimilated into mainstream culture. And there’s more opportunities opened up so that, you know, many feminist professors confront our students now saying, Well, feminism is not needed or we confront a world that says racism has ended. What are black people and people of color whining about?

And so my work has, I felt constantly stressed about the need for decolonization. That is to say that we understand that we are shaped by systemic forms of oppression like racism and homophobia and all of those things. And what do we have to do to break away from that? Or right now, for example, we have a rising social class of privileged black people. Their interests are not always the same as the interests of working class people. We saw that with the Million Man March and with the fact that when black thinker, women thinkers like myself, Angela Davis, other women critiqued the march for its patriarchal biases, critique the notion of men who don’t parent saying “let’s end welfare” without talking about what’s going to happen to the well-being of masses of women and children.

And we know that the majority of people on welfare are not black. But what’s going to happen to those people when welfare ends? You know, all of those kinds of issues that it seems to me still have to do with both feminist liberation and black liberation. And right now, I think that we need a revitalized liberation struggle on both fronts, certainly the recent presidential mess around Monica Lewinsky shows us how much people in our society did not understand feminist focus on sexual harassment, on consensual relations versus relations where someone is imposing something onto someone.

And I feel that there’s tremendous anti feminism in our society right now. It’s so evident that no matter how much the press may choose to paint Lewinsky as a victim, a lot of people feel like this is a trivial mess that feminism has put on the table. And so it has its kind of anti-feminist backlash, even though we don’t necessarily see that so immediately in the popular press, which may choose, because it’s so conservative, to out and out condemn Mr. Clinton without, you know, actually dealing with the the larger questions of what are we really talking about?

You know, when we’re talking about sexual harassment and to what extent can there be consent? You know, I, I am a dissenter from more popular feminist voices in the sense that I believe that we cannot say that we want equality with men and not feel like there can be consent even when there is a difference of power. Because there are, almost all women are involved who are heterosexual in relationships with men who usually have more power than they do. So the point is not that we will always have some kind of balanced situation where people can have consensual agreement. But what does it mean to have integrity and respect and, you know, consent within the context of power differences? And so all of those issues seem to me to be still issues that need to be talked about and in a manner that breaks through the kind of mounting anti feminism in our culture.

Prof Barbara Ransby: Just to pursue that a little bit, it seems to me also a fine line, though, between a number of feminists who who have come out to critique the attack on Clinton. But much of the feminist movement, we’ve talked about, the personal is political, and we’ve talked about the need to protect women in the workplace and there’s an argument to be made. I think that even if the relationship between Clinton and Lewinsky was consensual, that we also need to hold men in power who have often used that power to have sexual access to women accountable. I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on that argument.

bell hooks: I don’t think those two things are different, but we cannot. I mean, I think one of the, one of the flaws of a lot of contemporary feminist thinking is we simply cannot have our cake and eat it too. We cannot say that we are equal to men and that we want equality with men and then want a kind of special treatment because, you know, there are power differences between men in the workforce. And while they may not take the form of sexual harassment. We also, I think, cannot continue to privilege sexuality above all other forms of harassment, domination, exploitation that it cannot…

We can’t be in the special category at the same time that we argue that we’re equal and we enter the workspace on equal terms. For example, one of the pieces I wrote about this in ‘Remembered Rapture’, the essay that I wrote that got the most hostile feedback from other women was an essay about Anita Hill, where I said, Must we call every woman sister? And I didn’t try to argue that Anita Hill was not victimized. But I did try to suggest that merely being victimized does not make you either a feminist or an advocate of feminist politics. And I think that those distinctions are very important.

If feminist politics are to have the kind of integrity of a set of values then we can’t simply say that being victimized makes someone a feminist, or if a female is victimized, that it is necessarily a feminist issue. And I think those are the difficulties in a culture like ours where people don’t want to think things through in a deeper way.

Prof Barbara Ransby: OK, we’ll probably talk about that a little bit more, but I want to go back to your book, which provides us some interesting stimuli along these lines. I think you have really, as you’ve just been articulating, been a person giving us a sense of feminism as constantly redefining itself. And you’ve insisted that feminism is not anti men, which is, of course, one of the stereotypes often thrown thrown at us, but also that feminist ideas can be embraced by a range of people independent of identity. Talk about that a little bit. I think it’s an expansion of some of the points you’re making about the Clinton, Lewinsky scenario.

bell hooks: Well, I definitely believe that feminism is for everybody, and the moment we, I differ from more reformist feminist thinkers who want to feel that feminism is actually a kind of special movement for women. I actually feel that feminism is the movement for social justice that has really affected all our lives, particularly in the areas of work. But boys and girls, I mean, the idea that boys have an opportunity now to not be just shoved into some kind of patriarchal sense of who they are that doesn’t allow them to be whole people and fully self-actualized.

I mean, this is to me has been one of the tremendous gifts of the feminist movement and to me, any great movement for social justice, and I think certainly one of the greatest movements for social justice in the world has been the civil rights movement in the United States, has to be a movement that is constantly changing and that is constantly in process. I mean, within feminist movement, for example, early on, women really supported no-fault divorce. Then we found that no-fault divorce actually really victimized women who had been in long term marriages and who had been out of the workforce and who could not enter on an equal footing with the men in their lives. And so we had to rethink that theory, and the truly revolutionary movements are constantly having to rethink and rechallenge. And that’s what makes them have the greatest impact.

Prof Barbara Ransby: You have a chapter on spirituality as a part of your writing and a lot of academics shy away from talking about spirituality, but you don’t. You embrace it.

bell hooks: Yeah, I wanted to say that partially. I think that I think that my writing has its own intense particular flavor that has to do with bringing that combined perspective and also bringing, as I write about in the book, a perspective that is really rooted in faith and a belief in divine spirit and to be on the left in the society, but to also believe very much in a spiritual life and is makes already a kind of different perspective.

Prof Barbara Ransby: The idea of living a writer’s life of living and becoming comfortable with being alone is that in distinction from an activist life? How would you define your sense of a community? Is it your readers? Is it other writers? Talk about that a little bit, because I think that’s a tension that many writers negotiate in terms of being a public person, but needing to be private to a certain extent in order to do the work.

bell hooks: First of all, I think that writing can be a form of activism. I mean that if you’re, you’re, it depends on what you write. I mean, I write the kind of books that I feel want to have at the heart, their heart, a desire to be a healing force in people’s life, whether it’s a healing force of illuminating white supremacy to someone who does not understand it and thereby enabling them to, if they’re white, for example, to divest of forms of racist thinking and behavior. That, to me, is, is, is very activist.

And then there’s, there’s a difference between what we do alone and the work we do in the world, which people tend to have that kind of dichotomy, where they want to say the work you do concretely in the world with other people is more valuable. And I always say that we need both and that the best forms of activism are rooted in theory that comes out of the space of contemplation. So there’s, it’s really about balance and and and those two things coming together.
Recording ends

Axmed: You are listening to Radio Berlin International live on Reboot FM 88.4 in Berlin, 98.7 in Potsdam and worldwide at Up next, we’ll play part of an introductory lecture, or, as I would say, also a love letter to bell hooks by professor Imani Perry in 2014. It was during a gathering at the New School for the 20th anniversary of ‘Teaching to Transgress: Education as The Practice of Freedom’, which is also one of hooks’ books that I revisited the most. II also wanted to note that bell hooks was present at this gathering and took part in the conversation that followed professor Imani Perry’s lecture, and we would highly recommend watching the recording in its entirety. And also, we would like to thank professor Imani Perry for giving us permission.

Recording starts

Prof Imani Perry: The work of gendering is powerful. Women, think about the times when you run around all day and don’t eat when you stay up all night to do tasks for friends or families or coworkers or mentees knowing you won’t have a moment to catch up on that sleep. The exhaustion? Think about the times when you play small so as not to unnerve. She’s been telling us for five decades to let that shit go, to care enough about ourselves to not simply fight for the world to be less cruel, but to not repeat its cruelty upon our own very precious bodies, minds and hearts. She has laid the path bare, hard headed. We still need to be told we still have a great deal of work to do. But she writes “Teachers must be actively involved, committed to a process of self-actualization that promotes their own well-being if they are to teach in a manner that empowers students.” And this reminds me, at least, that my calling is in vain if it is not applied to me as much as to the young people who I stand in front of, I’m teaching myself too.

And finally, spiritual work. Her concern with interiority moves between the psychological and the emotional to the spiritual interiority refuses binaries of mind and body reason and emotion, intellect and affect. It’s all there in the constitution of a self and us being the wounds of passion, the stigmata we carry our testaments to bear witness to the ugliness of this world, particularly particularly to the embodied person that is black and female. That which is named monstrous, deemed other cast aside, us. The gospel that was read in countless churches yesterday came from the Book of Matthew, and it included Jesus’s citation of the following scripture: the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. The Lord has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes. Feminist practice, praxis and ethics can borrow from them.

This irrespective of one’s faith or absence thereof, and that it requires placing a cornerstone in every edifice of our imagination and our politics. Gloria, thank you for making girls like me, like us, your cornerstone. But more than that, from modeling how to do so. A pedagogy of the oppressed. A moral code with rejected stones at the center. Gloria singing to those cornerstones becomes a dark psychology for those of us who believe in liberatory feminisms whose calling is to teach emancipation. We ought to heed her guidance, listen to the peels and chimes of her bell. Her expansive intellect has always been in the service of us. We come of age as thinkers through her brilliance. She makes complicated ideas, beautiful, and so the young ones thirsty drink from the font with eagerness growing bigger and fuller with each passing gulp. The older ones have moved through many pages and many thinkers, and we keep returning to her because we know that there isn’t an idea in contemporary, progressive feminist or black cultural politics that she hasn’t covered more than once and brilliantly.

I remember when Touré’s book ‘Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness’ came out and I thought, well, Gloria wrote that in an essay in Yearning on Postmodern Blackness about 20 years ago, and it was on the very same topic. And the principal difference, I believe, was that I believe hers was far more politically progressive, more concise and more nuanced and smarter. In that piece, she at once held that yes, we must deconstruct monolithic conceptions of blackness, but also understand the political usefulness of collective self conceptions and in Teaching to Transgress, she questioned why folks are so invested in pointing out how marginalized people are essentialist. What are the stakes of such elite investments?

She wrote a decade and a half ago about the abuses attending the corporal punishment of children. But as she always has done, she refused to simplistically render boogeyman and boogeyman and stereotypes in the process, saying “In a culture of domination where children have no civil rights, those who are powerful adult males and females can exert autocratic rule of children. All the medical facts show that children are violently abused daily in this society. Much of that abuse is life threatening and many children die. Women perpetuate this violence as much as men, if not more.

A serious gap in feminist thinking and practice has been the refusal of the movement to confront head on adult female violence against children.” In Black Looks published over 20 years ago, she recognized the liberatory and transgressive possibilities of gender queer expressions of identity and questioned nevertheless, the then only nascent trend of making black queerness into a spectacle, a curiosity for mainstream consumption. Emotions have never been subsumed to the economy in her work, but the economy has always been integral to her analyses, media corporations and the like.

At the same time, she reminds us that intimacy is also part of the structure of domination and yet love always matters. All that to say, not only is she giving us legions of important ideas, but she reveals the pathways of her ideas by citing other thinkers consistently and in detailed fashion. Which is quite rare and increasingly in the academy. There’s space for disagreement in person and on the page with her because she never requires absolute agreement to recognize the value of another’s work. She reads works as much for what they give as what they get wrong, a generosity that is sadly often abandoned by scholars.

At the same time, she won’t hesitate to passionately assert her disagreement with anyone beloved or stranger. What is even more extraordinary is that she explores the range of social and political questions from different lenses. What is the task of the writer? What do different forms lend themselves to exposing, poetry, prose, memoir, essay, experimental fiction and creative scholarship? She reveals herself. She’s a philosopher. She writes as a teacher, a critical pedagogue, as a person in spiritual practice, as a woman, and I cannot overstate the importance of her as a person who made space for black women’s sexuality as a healthy part of the whole person and not to be hidden under nationalist or bourgeois victorianism.

We are embodied. We are flesh, love these hands, love these lips, love these legs like baby slugs in the clearing and hip swinging womenish girls, at once. Undoing, returning to when we loved being inside our skin more than we worried about what it meant from the outside. At the end of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novel The Autumn of the Patriarch, the lifelong dictator who is representative of that 20th century political form that so dramatically captured the problem of domination, dies and the people rejoice. And Marquez describes how “Frantic crowds took to the streets, singing hymns of joy at the jubilant news of his death. An alien forever more to the music of liberation in the rockets of jubilation and the bells of glory that announce to the world the good news that the unaccountable time of eternity had come to an end.” Bells of glory in Spanish or Gloria for the end of an eternal patriarch.

In 1976, the soul group Enchantment released a song called Gloria and I can’t sing, so I’m not going to sing part of it. But in it, the lead singer sings quite beautifully. “I don’t want to see Gloria, Gloria. I don’t want to see another day without your love.” I, we don’t want to see another day without her love. The love she preaches. We must make real for all of us. We must teach it, model it and nurture it. I, we want to live feminist ethics, critical consciousness and self care. We want to cleanse ourselves of the muck of self-aggrandizement and competitiveness, the seductions of neoliberalism and star systems. The fiction that we can only be according to the terms of another we want love. That is not a cliché, but rather radical commitment to the wholeness of us, all of us. We want to be Third World Diva Girls today and always and for the ones to come.
Recording ends

Tom: Thank you. That was Professor Imani Perry. Now to Australia, where the country’s most prestigious arts event, the Sydney Festival, is entering its final week. The festival attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors to see music, theatre and dance from all over the world. But this year, about a third of the acts who were due to perform have pulled out – and it’s nothing to do with COVID.

Axmed: No, it’s all because of the decision by the festival last year to accept sponsorship from the State of Israel, who are listed on the festival’s website as ’star partner’. The festival faced objections from Palestinian solidarity groups, who said that this is not appropriate given Israel’s ongoing occupation and human rights violations. But the festival dug its heels in, and many artists have now withdrawn in protest.

Tom: With us to discuss this is Doris Ghannam, an activist with BDS Berlin. Thank you very much for joining us, Doris.

Doris: Yeah, thank you very much for inviting me.

Tom: So first of all, when Israel decides to sponsor an artistic event like the Sydney Festival, what message are they trying to send?

Doris: I first have to say that it was not Israel who wanted to sponsor, but it was the Sydney Festival who asked Israel, according to the Deputy Ambassador of Israel to Australia. He said somebody from the management came to us last May and asked. He said it was for one performance the Decadence performance of the Sydney Dance Company under the choreography of a person called Ohad Naharin, and he is a Tel Aviv choreographer. So it was the other way around.

Axmed: So they actually sought after… the festival went to the… OK.

Tom: So I guess the festival received a little bit of funding for this sponsorship, but Israel presumably is trying to achieve something by sponsoring art festivals.

Doris: Yeah, of course. It’s what we call art washing. I mean, Israel uses art and there are some people who really said it very clearly: we send out novelists, writers, our cultural workers around the globe so the face of Israel will be much prettier than it is. We are all always perceived as a war country and we want to change that. And the awful thing is, he said that when it was sometime in 2008/9, when when the Gaza attack was over and, they had the phosphorous bombs and all these weapons that are not allowed to use. And they did not allow the UN Commission to go after this. So there’s this term hasbara, this initiative that started in 2005/6, when they realized they have to do something with art. We in the BDS campaign, call it art washing.

Tom: And so the campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel, that’s also existed for some years. Can you tell us where that started and when the idea came from?

Doris: This campaign started in 2005, exactly on July 9th, 2005 for a certain reason, because one year before there was the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice to find out whether the building of the wall inside Palestine is illegal and the conclusion of the advisory opinion was it’s illegal and there is a U.N. resolution where everybody was told what he has to do. Not only what Israel has to do – to stop this violation of international law and give compensation to those who lost a lot of things. But also and this is important, I think we have to say, to third states. I mean, it’s not only…Israel is the way it is because every state around this country, especially Germany, allows it to be like that. So this is the point.

And exactly one year after this advisory opinion came out, the Palestinians, a large part of the Palestinian society, launched what they call the BDS call, to boycott Israel, for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law and human rights. And the important thing in this call is it’s not only about occupation, as it was all the 50 years before. It includes all parts of the Palestinian people. Those in the occupied territory – West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza – Palestinian citizens in Israel and everybody abroad, refugees and so on, so forth. So it’s the first time that it was all the Palestinian people who were behind this call. And it started in 2005. Very slowly, maybe. And of course, in Germany a little bit later. And when you read the conclusion of 2021, we all say it was a good year. I mean, there were a lot of things that happened, which we never thought would happen before. And I mean, this Sydney thing is one thing. I mean, if you imagine that 40 percent of the performance didn’t take place, this is great.

Axmed: So around 40 percent of the…

Doris: It was 100 individuals and organizations. That was the latest update on January 20th of BDS Australia. And they said it’s one hundred people, individuals and organisations, and it’s about 40 percent of the performances that couldn’t take place. And I will take the chance to to just focus on it a little bit more. I mean, it’s a cultural event. It’s artists who had two years of pandemic behind them who, thought, oh great, we go to a festival. But they had their ethical considerations. And this is more than doing an event in a performance. And I think we have to thank them very, very much. They deserve our high respect. And we also I think we should thank our colleagues from BDS Australia that they started to go in that.

Tom: So let’s hear a little bit from one of those artists who led the boycott in Sydney. Barkaa is a rapper who’s been vocal against the violence experienced by First Nations people in Australia at the hands of the police. And last month, she posted on Instagram, saying “I stand with Palestine always, and I’m pulling out of all events associated with the Sydney Festival. We, as a nation, live in a time where we should know better, so we should do better.” And here’s her track from 2020, Our Lives Matter.
[Song playing]

Axmed: That was Barkaa. So we’ve been talking about the boycott of the Sydney Festival, which has seen almost 40 percent of the artists withdraw in protest, in solidarity with the Palestinian people because of the sponsorship of the State of Israel of the festival. With us is Doris Ghannam from the BDS Berlin campaign.

Tom: So Doris, as well as rejecting sponsorship from the State of Israel, the cultural boycott campaign also asks artists not to play in Israel. Why is that important?

Doris: It’s exactly the other way around. I mean, if you go to a concert in Israel, you accept the circumstances there. We can assume that concepts in Israel are in one or the other way financed by the state. And that means you are in a way complicit with the state and the politics of the state, and that’s why we ask people not to go there. Sometimes people have the idea to say, well, I go to Israel and to Palestine. This is not the point. I mean, if you are against a racist colonial regime, so be against it.

Tom: And are there any actions coming up in Berlin that people can get involved in with BDS Berlin?

Doris: Yeah, there is. Next week there are two concerts with the Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes. He’s going around the globe and he’s also coming to Berlin. But also he’s going five times now – first, it was only four times – he will give five concerts in Tel Aviv. And there’s a larger campaign. There is a letter from Palestinian and Israeli artists who ask him not to go to Israel, not to perform in Israel. He can play everywhere, but not there. This is the content of the cultural boycott, not to play in Israel, not to be connected with Israeli institutions.

Tom: And people will find details of everything BDS Berlin is doing on your website and Twitter.

Doris: The website is BDS Berlin, and there you will find the Twitter account and the Facebook account.

Tom: Brilliant. Thank you so much for joining us this evening. Now, before we go, we want to thank the listeners who wrote to us since the last episode, which is kind of like a part one to what we’ve been talking about today because two weeks ago we heard from Palestinian artists in Berlin about the situation they face living under Israeli occupation. And we also heard about how Germany has been backing the authoritarian regime in Sudan and talked about the resurgence of the protest movement for civilian rule there. So here are some of the things that we heard from our listeners.

Axmed: A listener called Harry from Toronto, Canada, said. I’m just completely knocked out by your second show from January. It is amazing. I can still hear the very moving Palestinian musician playing the Arab lute in the second song. It is so achingly sad

Tom: and Anita listening in Maryland, USA, said thank you for the broadcast hosted by Annie and interviewing Ahmed Isamaldin, who told us about the protests in Sudan. The interview was interesting. I also loved the music that was played

Axmed: and Ted listening from Prenzlauer Berg here in Berlin echoed that sentiment, saying “Really like the most recent radio show. Really interesting interview and great music.

Tom: So if you missed that show, you can hear it again online at Reboot.FM. I’m Tom Wills. I’ve been co-presenting with Axmed Maxamed and we’ve also co-produced the show. The engineer for Reboot FM was Noemie Cayron. Thank you very much for listening, and we hope you’ll join us again in two weeks’ time.

Axmed: Thank you very much.

Film Review – Time of Pandemics

A new South African film shows how millions died from AIDS because of the priorities of Big Pharma and how we are repeating the experience under Covid


Time of Pandemics is the new film by Rehad Desai, South African director of award-winning films about the Marikana massacre (Miners Shot Down) and the Rhodes Must Fall campaign. This film looks at two pandemics which have ravaged sub-Saharan Africa in recent decades – HIV/AIDS and Covid.

AIDS and HIV in South Africa

When the AIDS epidemic emerged in the 1980s, Western media coverage initially concentrated on the USA and Western Europe, but it was Africans who suffered the most. 35 Million have died worldwide from AIDS-related illnesses. Most infections have been in sub-Saharan Africa. At present, 9 million South Africans are HIV positive.

The high incidence of HIV in South Africa was largely down to two factors. Firstly, leading politicians denied that the disease could be fought. In parliament, president Thabo Mbeki rejected the possibility of effective treatment, saying: “when you ask the question, does HIV cause AIDS, the question is, does a virus cause a syndrome? How does a virus cause a syndrome? It can’t”.

South African AIDS victims had much more to deal with than obstinate politicians. Even without the obstruction of people like Mbeki, there was simply a lack of available antiretroviral drugs, which allow you to live with HIV and reduce the risk of transmission. Western pharmaceutical companies refused to allow these drugs to be used in the Global South if they could not bring a profit. South Africans had to wait 18 years for life saving medicine, resulting in 10 million deaths.

This combination of blaming the people who were suffering from AIDS and a lack of sufficient drugs led to health workers having to make impossible decisions. Human Rights lawyer Fatima Hassan explains how doctors were asked to decide who was “innocent” enough to be saved. This meant that infected nurses and rape victims were given medicine, but men who had sex with other men were not. As a result, infections increased.

Epidemiologist Rob Wallace explains how the development of HIV/AIDS and many other pandemics is linked to colonialism and capitalism. The original SIV virus (the precursor to HIV) was transmitted from chimpanzees to workers who had been sent to the rain forests to gain more profit for capital, then transmitted through trade routes to Kinshasha. It is not a coincidence that the main hotspots for disease and epidemics are now global trade centres like London and Hong Kong.

Wherever HIV became endemic in Africa, there was a rise in tuberculosis (TB). The two diseases both affected each other and also strained the health service. People with HIV are ten times more likely to develop active TB, and TB is the leading cause of death of people with HIV worldwide. The increase in HIV led to an increase in TB, and hospital infrastructure was not able to handle this. This also led to the development of drug resistant mutations in both HIV and TB. What this means is that every new epidemic does not just endanger the local population, it also brings the danger of a pandemic that can potentially spread globally.

Local activists formed the Treatment Action Campaign, which won the active support of former president Nelson Mandela. They put AIDS in South Africa on the international agenda. But the old power disparities remained. One pharma company felt compelled to voluntarily drop its patents, leading to much lower priced antiretroviral drugs – but these were only made available at the cheaper price in the developed world.

In 1986/1987, South African doctors joined their Western counterparts to work on an HIV vaccine. We are only now approaching the possibility of an effective vaccine against HIV and AIDS. Doctor Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to the US president, calls this “definitely worth the investment, particularly among women in South Africa, who were at enormous risk.”

AIDS and Covid in the USA

South Africa was not the only country which had to deal with reactionary politicians. In a parliamentary debate, US Senator Jesse Helms claimed that “the subject matter is so obscene, so revolting that until we are ready to eliminate the types of activities which have caused the spread of the AIDS epidemic, I don’t think we’re ever going to stop it.”

President Ronald Reagan denied migrants with AIDS entry into the US. Reagan was not alone. In the mid-1980s, 81 countries passed legislation restricting the movement of HIV positive people. Migrants, gay men and Black people were all scapegoated for the failure of governments to adequately deal with a problem which could not be solved by a system based on profit.

Many of us remember how the AIDS epidemic was used to stigmatise gay men. But Black people were also demonised. Fauci explains how in the USA, African Americans, Latinx and Asian Americans have been disproportionately hit by Covid – largely because these are the groups most likely to be affected by poverty. As Fauci says: “ if you don’t understand that, you’re not going to get your arms around the disease.”

Despite not having HIV himself, Justin Lofton joined trials trying to find a cure, because as a black, gay man, he knows that he has a 50% chance of contracting HIV in his lifetime. In the film he explains that being black and gay in the Southern States is a double whammy which makes him a particular target for prejudice, facing discrimination in the housing market and even eviction.

With the emergence of Covid, we have experienced some familiar patterns. As with AIDS; this is partly to do with victim blaming from above. We are shown footage of then-president Trump railing against the so-called “China virus”. Trump also claimed that Covid will “just go away”. This helps explains why the greatest number of Covid deaths have been registered in the USA.

But Covid has also brought some new problems. Firstly, as AIDS was primarily transmitted by sexual contact, it could be severely reduced by safer sex (although is easier said than done and many women are faced with belligerent husbands who refuse to wear a condom). It is much easier to transmit Covid through everyday contact, making it even more dangerous.

But the problem is more systemic and international than just Trump’s racism. There has been a systematic disinvestment from public health spending. 28 million US Americans still have no health insurance, and 24 million are under-insured – despite the alleged benefits brought by Obamacare. New Public Private Partnership means that although Fauci says that “we were considered the best prepared country for the epidemic”, politics was allowed to intervene.

There is also the problem of lockdown. Towards the beginning of the pandemic South Africa implemented one of the most severe lockdowns that was seen worldwide. The main victims were the poor, who just could not afford to stockpile food. One of the side-effects of Covid in South Africa is that malnourishment has now reached epidemic proportions. This is not just a problem of the Global South.

How the WTO causes millions of deaths

And yet the problem is not simply caused by the US or South African governments, it is systemic. Chief Offender is the World Trade Organisation (WTO) which in the mid-1990s was able to implement Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property, better known as TRIPS. Simply put, TRIPS made unpatented generic drugs illegal. Big Pharma was able to set the prices for the drugs that were literally a matter of life and death for millions of people.

When the ANC government took over in South Africa in the early 1990s, the first question that the WTO put to them was whether they would respect patent rights (ie whether they would allow pharmaceutical companies set the price for anti-HIV – and later anti-Covid – drugs at a price that most people could not afford). Until the early 2000s, antiretroviral drugs in South Africa cost $15 thousand per year, even though much cheaper generic drugs from India were available.

As a response to TRIPS, countries in the Global South had some hope in COVAX, which was set up by the World Health Organisatoin to ensure that all countries get equal access to Covid vaccines. Yet, as medical journal The Lancet reported: “COVAX was a beautiful idea, born out of solidarity. Unfortunately it didn’t work … Rich countries behaved worse than anyone’s worst nightmares.” When the Delta version of Covid hit South Africa, only 2% of the population had been vaccinated.

Poor countries requested a TRIPS waiver during the Covid pandemic, which would allow them to use generic drugs. World leaders like Emmanuel Macron and Joe Biden made self-important speeches supporting this demand. And yet, the 2021 G7 summit in Cornwall – attended by Macron and Biden – rejected it. Many people in poor countries died as a result.

There was resistance to the WTO and to TRIPS, most notably at the WTO Conference in Seattle in 1999. Massive protests outside shut down the conference, giving countries that didn’t want TRIPS the confidence to make a stand. Protests shut down the WTO. Over the following years, lower and middle income countries won concessions to produce generic drugs. Fifteen years later, a WTO amendment on Intellectual Property Rights was a great gain for the poor countries.

These have been minor victories, but the war continues. In 2020, the US-American Federal Drugs Agency allowed emergency use of the Covid vaccine from BioNTech. In principle, this would mean free drugs for the Global South. And yet Vaccine Nationalism means that the rich countries who account for 13% of the world’s population have already bought up over half of the available vaccines.

What is the problem? And how can we solve it?

Director Rehad Desai describes the problem as “Zombie capitalism, marching us towards our mutual destruction.” Dr Aslam Dasoo, from the South African Public Health Forum explains: “Big Pharma is not owned by pharmacists. It’s owned by the hedge funds which require a return on investment. To make huge profits you need to be sole supplier.” Whether people live or die is simply not relevant unless it can be represented by an entry on the balance sheet.

The film ends with Desai accurately summarizing where we are:

“So, what has society learned from this Time of Pandemics? That we have encroached upon nature to the extent that it’s now only a matter of time before we face another threat? That seems clear enough. But what about the more difficult issue of how prepared we are for what’s to come?

Covid has revealed that our current approach to public health is simply not working. Maybe this is our last chance to go back to an older path we once travelled – health as a basic right, not letting the market determine who gets access to innovation. Not treating the Global South as a charity case and turning us into a petri dish of variants. Not letting the quest for profit lead us all further into catastrophe.

Is it really such a radical idea to put people first?

This is an angry film, which has a very real reason for its anger. And yet it is not without hope. The focus on our victories – on Seattle, on the brave doctors and patients who might make HIV/AIDS a disease of the past – means that it does not fall into mawkish cynicism. At the same time, it issues a clarion call: if we want to save lives, we need fundamental changes, and we need them now.

Times of Pandemics now has a German distributor and will hopefully be released later this year in Germany. When it does, you should go and see it, take your friends and colleagues, and discuss its serious implications. Many lives were lost to AIDS due to the policies of international governments and Big Business. We must not allow history to repeat itself.

For more information about Time of Pandemics, see its website. You can view the trailer here.

Greece seven years after the left’s electoral challenge

7 years ago today, SYRIZA won a historic election in Greece. What has happened since?


This week in Greece marks a bitter anniversary. Parliamentary elections held on 25 January 2015 ended a series of right-wing governments and opened up the chance for a coalition headed by a broad left party, SYRIZA, standing on a clear mandate to “tear up” all memoranda and austerity measures imposed by the so called stabilization programs, defend the working-class and the poor and deliver democracy. That SYRIZA failed to deliver as well as spread disillusionment is beyond doubt and has been analyzed elsewhere – on this webpage as well. So where do the people of Greece stand now?

Seven years later the official picture at first glance looks rather dim. Right wing New Democracy is in office since 2019, implementing a full pro-capitalist program: Hard neoliberal measures (more austerity, job “flexibility”, confinement of trade union activity, further privatization of key sectors (ports, electricity, water-supply), and privatizing public space. It is combined with attacks on democratic rights (more police forces, “normalizing” the eternally insurgent university campuses), more institutional racism (patrol police leaving refugees to drown in the Aegean Sea), nationalism and huge arms spending. And this goes hand in hand with ideological attacks, as well as smearing the Left and any idea of socialism and solidarity as utterly bankrupt. Greek capitalists expect that their party in office can make the Greek state work for their interests. The right wing’s absolute control of mainstream media facilitates the control of public opinion so the failures of the government will never be revealed, and polls describe prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis as more and more popular. However this is only the surface.

Has New Democracy succeeded in its goals?

Far from the success story headlines, the Greek economy remains one of the weakest links in the EU chain, and this practically means that Mitsotakis’s government is not getting close to the end of the tunnel. On the contrary, all relieving measures taken during the pandemic by the EU institutions are coming to an end and Greece has to pay its debt, which has gone out of control.

According to the experts of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), Greek public debt must be steadily reduced from the heights it was allowed to reach during the pandemic and this demands drastic primary surpluses for at least the next twenty years. A primary surplus isthe difference between incoming minus outcoming (expenses), without borrowing from outer sources

In 2020 Greece had the highest debt in the Eurozone as it stood at 205.65% of GDP, (followed by Italy with 155.81% of GDP). The plan foresees that in order for the Greek debt be reduced to 100% of GDP, primary surpluses of 4.5% are required for the next 20 years, while reducing it to the current threshold (60% of GDP) will require primary surpluses of 6.5% of GDP per year for 20 years! To have a sense of the scale, the previous memorandum had a surplus target of 3.5%. It is easy to see how ferocious the cuts should be in public spending in order to reach these targets! Obviously the cuts will not be implemented on arms spending, police and the notorious coastguards, but will butcher public sector wages and pensions, public health, education and social services.

Last week Athens welcomed six more Rafale combat aircrafts purchased from France, with the support of the government of Emmanuel Macron. While the airplanes were flying over Acropolis to cheering from mainstream media, everyone could make the comparisons for the cost of these political decisions to the expense of Special Care Units, hospitals and schools, not to mention inflation and soaring prices in basic goods, which are consuming wages and the living standard of the vast majority.

Additionally, one shouldn’t discount the debacle of the government’s strategy with Covid. New Democracy’s catastrophic management of the pandemic crises, in correlation with the abandoning of public health has brought Greece to the top in mortality figures within the E.U.

These are only a few aspects of the right wing attacks and failures. Corruption, scandals and institutional sexism is everyday practice of New Democracy. So there is a legitimate question: Are these policies tolerated by the Greek people? The answer is that there has been resistance from the first day of Mitsotaki’s government.

Who’s afraid of the working class?

“Dear Rider, in the context of increasing fleet productivity and according to the company’s broader strategy, we would like to propose you to join the freelancing partnership scheme… We would like to continue our cooperation, but based on the above and on your batch (resulting from various factors), we consider that it would be better for you to continue working as a freelancer… In other case, we would like to inform you that there is no possibility of renewing the existing contract…”

This message was sent via sms to 115 delivery workers of efood , the country’s biggest online delivery company (subsidiary of German “Delivery Hero”), on 15 September 2021. Until then, efood employees had enjoyed full insurance, paid holidays, allowances, night shift and public holiday bonuses, as well as 15% of their basic salary for the operation and maintenance of their self-owned two-wheeled vehicles. This was stipulated by Law 4611/2019, which was won through the motorcycle riders union’s struggles and the support of thousands of workers, culminating to a magnificent strike in April 2019. But the newly voted “Chatzidaki’s law” on labor affairs, named after the notorious right-wing minister who compiled it, opened all possible ways for scraping such achievements.

What was amazing was not the attack but the response from the workers of efood and the Greek society. Right after receiving the message, there were strike announcements from both trade unions in charge (Tourism, Catering and Motorcycle delivery riders – ΣΒΕΟΔ), despite their political differences. Within hours from the news hitting social media, a number of efood clients estimated between 100,000 and half million cancelled their subscriptions and uninstalled the app, while social media was flooded with denouncements of efood and with solidarity to the workers. Two days later the management of the company made a public statement, apologizing for a “misunderstood statement” and clarifying that nothing will be changed in the contracts and conditions of work. It was a humiliating defeat with strong conclusions: It showed that the bosses are not all-powerful, that reactionary laws may be voted on in parliament but can be cancelled in the streets. In addition, it refuted popular theories (even within the Left) about the weakness of the new “precarious” workers to organize and resist, about “great walls” dividing the working class. Not only did efood workers win, but their victory put pressure on the rest of delivery companies to offer full contracts and benefits to their crew. And the thousands of people who suspended their accounts did so as co-workers and fellows and not as consumers, their power lay in solidarity and that was a message of hope for everyone.

Efood is not a unique story. One month later it was the turn of the workers of COSCO, the Chinese giant which has purchased the port of Piraeus after its privatization. In the afternoon of Monday, 25 October 2021, Dimitris Danglis, a 45-year-old worker of subcontractor company DPort encountered a horrible death on his counter shift – a shift following a 12-hour shift with an 8-hour break. He got trapped on the rails of a travelling crane, which evidently ran over him. The response from the trade union ENEDEP was immediate, calling a general 24-hour strike from midnight that Monday and a rally the next morning at the gate of the Container Terminal. Following a powerful strike that shut down the port for seven consecutive days against intensified work and inadequate safety measures, COSCO was forced to sit at the table to negotiate. They committed themselves in writing to the abolishment of inhumane “counter shifts”, as well as to the formation of a Health and Safety Committee with the participation of members of the union. They also recognized the union officially.

During those days, in addition to the daily assemblies, large mobilizations and marches took place with the participation of unions all over the country: at the Port, at COSCO headquarters, at the Ministry of Maritime affairs and at the Courts. The Piraeus Port Workers’ Union held a support strike, the Piraeus Labour Centre organized a solidarity event and a mobilization at the Ministry of Labour, while the Tourism and Catering Trade Union cooked in solidarity with the strikers at the port.

Resistance is here

What happened with efood and COSCO is only a sample of resistance from below, from the almost forgotten sections of the working class, and is only a part of the picture. The overall sheet of balance has been shaped by strikes and working class militancy which, despite bureaucratic maneuvers from the trade union leadership has never ceased to resist measures of the government. The workers in public health have been on the front lines since the outburst of the pandemic to defend health care for all, challenge the cuts and demand new jobs instead of redundancies. Art workers, despite being scattered across numerous workplaces came to protests and succeeded in obtaining compensations for all during the lockdowns.

This is where inspiration for younger sections of the working class to come out and fight originates, as well as from a long record of political struggles against racism and fascism, and from protests for democratic rights.


Under such circumstances of discontent and polarization it was expected that the opposition would grasp the chances to challenge the hegemony of New Democracy and propose an alternative. Unfortunately, the parties in the parliamentary opposition have so far failed to do so. The main reason is that no party wants to stand for an angry working class and take the risk to commit to a break with the bosses. This includes SYRIZA, which is the main opposition party, and also PASOK, the socialist party that governed Greece for almost two decades in the 1980s and 1990s.

For Alexis Tsipras, the main concern is to appear as a “responsible” political force, one that will not challenge the interests of Greek capitalism. The “lesson” from last time in office is that despite SYRIZA’s U-turn and compromises, its government still never had the support of the Greek ruling class and media moguls. Although the establishment was relieved at Tsipras’ capitulation to memoranda and the exhaustion of people’s anger, they slaughtered SYRIZA as incompetent and unstable and clung to their traditionally favorite party, New Democracy. So the reformist strategy now is not a militant opposition, but instead to let the government rot and disintegrate by itself, leaving a gap for SYRIZA to come back and fill.

The effects are disappointing: SYRIZA has fully conceded to the “national” strategy of pursuing Greece’s geopolitical interests against Turkey, including arms spending and dangerous war rehearsals. Under the same “responsible” pretext they tolerated New Democracy’s failure with the pandemic. Tsipras recently expelled an MP from the party, for calling the government “killers”, on the ground that this is not the time for populism! This policy only legitimizes New Democracy and blurs the lines that separates it from SYRIZA.

Consequently, the party’s orientation has been set towards the centre left, targeting cadres who had left social democratic PASOK after the latter’s electoral collapse. Even the party’s name has been updated to “SYRIZA – Progressive alliance” to suit the new priorities. Inside this peculiar constellation, the left fraction, namely “Umbrella” is a confused versatile minority. But it seems that SYRIZA’s further approach to social democracy benefits its official political expression, PASOK, and introduces another vicious circle of right-wing shift.

In the last weeks a lot has been written about PASOK’s comeback following the election of a new leader, N.Androulakis, after the sudden death of center-left president F.Gennimata. Asked about participation in a future coalition government, the new leadership would not put its cards on the table, obviously waiting for the winner between New Democracy and SYRIZA! Needless to say that PASOK’s new face, despite efforts to appeal to the followers of “old good social democracy”, lacks serious bonds with the working class and its organizations. Oscillating between left and right will not do any good to rebuild them. However, in the context of New Democracy’s failure and SYRIZA’s pale opposition, there is some space for PASOK, who would like to follow the SPD’s example without having their roots as deep in society.

What now?

While this article was being written a snow storm hit Greece, resulting in horrible chaos in transport electric supply, and public safety. Cars were trapped on motorways and people were freezing out there, while it took half a day for the government to …call for the army to help remove the snow. This once more exposed the incapacity of New Democracy. The dominant slogan in the streets is “Mitsotaki fuck off!”, and this is a sign that the people are angrier and more radicalized than the parties that represent them, at least inside the parliament. It is also a call for the political organizations to the left of SYRIZA, including the anticapitalist left, to support and give expression to this potential, and not just wait for the “correct vote” in the next elections, because it might be too late. The time for getting rid of the government and halting its catastrophic plans is now, and this could be the real vindication for our struggles.

Don’t Blame Each Other. Build Solidarity

Germany is obsessed with the wrongdoings of individuals. Would the pandemic be over if more people took individual responsibility?


So a mum from Leo’s Kita recently told me a story about her sister who works in a test centre. One day, after a hard day at work, she went into Edeka on her way home. She saw someone there who had tested positive that very same day – and should have been in quarantine! She went to the branch manager and told him about it. The manager promptly made an announcement over the tannoy: “Can anyone who tested positive today please leave the store”. And five people left the building.

I don’t really believe this story, by the way. I’ve heard it often – sometimes it was in Lidl, sometimes in Aldi, one time it was even in Rewe. Each time exactly five people leave the supermarket after the manager’s announcement. I just don’t believe it. If I had broken quarantine because I needed to buy food, I wouldn’t go home without what I’d just bought. I’d have stood firm.

And me, personally, I would have been more worried about my leaving the store announcing my guilt to the whole neighbourhood, than just staying put and – should anyone ask me about it – claim that I must have a Doppelgänger who tested positive.

But I’m like that, you know, lots of things are more embarrassing to me than they would be to Germans. Every time when I mistakenly press the button in the Straßenbahn, I leave the tram and walk. And walk. And secretly think: no-one in the Straßenbahn knows that I made a mistake. That’s just what I’m like.

But you know what I do believe? I fully believe that there are people who are in quarantine, or even in isolation who break the rules, break the law, even. Because they need to get something to eat, man.

I still haven’t really understood what people in Germany are meant to do when they’re in quarantine but they need to eat? After all, the only thing seen as worse than popping to the shops in quarantine is the dreadful “hamstering”. People who hamster have no solidarity but breaking quarantine is illegal.

I keep on hearing German fantasies about friendly, helpful neighbours who bring grocery shopping round to grannies and single mums. Well, I don’t know about you guys, but this famous neighbour-quarantine-voluntary-delivery service agency hasn’t contacted me yet. (Bit of a shame really!) I live outside the city centre – there’s no Gorillas or Flink here. What should you do? What should I do? What are people meant to do, exactly?

I now know single mothers who may not have broken isolation, but have broken quarantine rules out of mix of necessity and desperation. And there are some people who have done even worse things than that: I, for example, have drunk tea with coconut milk. And yep, it tastes as bad as it sounds. I drank it all up and I hated myself.

Germany is obsessed with the idea that individual people fuck up a lot. The breathlessly disapproving anecdote about Edeka is about five individuals who have sinned, they have fucked up, they have failed, they are total losers. They should have gone shopping BEFORE they got tested (which, by the way, wouldn’t have actually put less people at risk of infection) or maybe they should have signed up for Gorillas. Or they should have stocked up on enough food for exactly ten days (and not a day longer, or else they’d be hamstering!). Or maybe they should have just spent their entire quarantine ordering food on Lieferando. Or I dunno: maybe they should have used the quarantine as an excuse to lose weight.

In Germany, individual people are always failing. They travel too much, their kids have too many parties, they get vaccinated too soon like a selfish, vaccine-hungry helicopter mamas – or else not soon enough like the uneducated people from “certain” communities. “Do you know…”, people ask, “…what the problem is in this country? No sense of responsibility! This pandemic would have been over long ago if there had been a greater sense of responsibility!”

But those five people in that Edeka are like cigarette butts in an Agatha Christie novel – they’re just red herrings. Disapproving of them comforts us. The truth is, staying alive during a deadly pandemic is fucking hard. It’s difficult enough for people who have money, a steady partner, good mental health. And for those people who were struggling already, it’s almost impossible.

I’m writing this text standing up by the way –just like Goethe. My back hurts, yesterday I had to carry my youngest child through Aldi. He refused to move, so I carried him on my hip with one arm, and pushed the pushchair with the other, and he’s just too heavy for that kind of shit. After shopping, I sat with him on the floor and hugged him. He slowly calmed down, his breathing slowing down, his body getting heavier.

I gave him some chocolate and watched his cheeks get redder. An old lady, a granny, who’d already had a go at us in the supermarket bawled me out. She spat out: “A great way to reward him for bad behaviour!”

“I’m not rewarding him, actually” I answered. “I’m distracting him.”

We’re obsessed by the failures of individual people: holidaymakers, Party-People, quarantine breakers, and the greatest public enemies – Anti-Vaxxers. Look, I’m not saying that these people aren’t selfish. What I’m saying is that precisely because these people are selfish, because people ARE selfish, and because life in a pandemic is pretty fucking difficult, we need to build a system that allows us to behave with solidarity.

To be honest, I don’t believe that individual people in Germany should be shopping more for the grannies and grandpas and single mothers who live in their apartment buildings. If you do feel that you need to do this, then yeah, go ahead, be my guest, just do it. Von mir aus, as we say in German. But I personally feel everyone in Germany is pretty fucking exhausted.

I don’t feel that German people, that individuals living in Germany, the individuals who make up the German nation, are particularly irresponsible or lacking in solidarity. I believe that people in Germany find it hard to admit that life is difficult – and that some people’s lives are much harder than others. To be honest, I think Germans are in total denial about this.

The health insurance – or, as far as I’m concerned the social services – should send food to people in quarantine – above all, to old people and single parents, people like that, but really, let’s be honest, to everyone. More child benefit should be made available to people who voluntarily want their kids to leave the Kita until the pandemic is over. We should abolish the punitive compulsory school attendance laws. And there should be more (and not less!) free PCR tests.

The plural of individual responsibility is not individual responsibilities but shared responsibility. We should try to forget the five people in Edeka. Yeah, yeah, yeah, they shouldn’t have been there. But maybe they were just hungry.

This article first appeared in German in analyse & kritik nr. 678. Translation: Phil Butland. Reproduced with permission.