A few months ago, a woman with a baby in a pushchair stopped me on the way to work, asking for directions to Communications House. She was carrying a letter on Home Office headed paper. I told her which way to go; she thanked me and carried on up the road. She was gone before it had quite registered with me what was going on; what happened next for her I don’t know.
I do know from personal experience that getting involved with other people’s problems can be costly, and can lead you into uncomfortable and even dangerous situations. I don’t want or enjoy that sort of hassle, and have no image of myself as a hero descending through the clouds to rescue those in need. Sometimes it’s right to intervene personally, whatever the cost, but a lot of the time it’s better to know who to call, to be able to put people in touch with networks who can support them, and to support those networks according to one’s own abilities. It might not have been right or helpful to get personally involved with that one person’s case, but it wouldn’t have hurt to be able to give her a number to call.
Liberty are doing some good work on issues relating to asylum, detention and deportation, and I’m proud to have signed up and sent my thirty quid in to support them. I’m now looking into the work of the No Borders network, and No One Is Illegal, trying to find out how I can usefully contribute given the limited time, money and energy I have available.
It seems to be the season for formerly fairly quiescent people to start getting politically involved; as I write, Sarah is filling out the form to join Unison, just in time for her union dues to support a summer of strike action across the public sector. This wasn’t a spontaneous individual decision: she and her fellow LSAs had a discussion over lunch one day which led to them agreeing to join en masse, photocopying the application form and handing copies round. I think it basically dawned on them that they were all being horrendously underpaid, and that their hitherto preferred strategy of just sitting around complaining about it all the time wasn’t really doing them much good.
I rather wish Ken Macleod’s fictional Webblies (the International Workers of the World Wide Web, or IWWWW) were a real organisation; IT workers like myself have so far proved very difficult to unionise, for a variety of reasons, but given the general convergence of hacker opinion on things like the desirability of Free (as in speech) Software and the inanity of corporate culture you’d think some sort of left-libertarian collective agency ought to be possible, even if people still get into flamewars about whether static or dynamic typing is better*, whether Java should have closures**, or what have you.
* Static typing is better, but only if the type system is something like Haskell’s.
** Java should not have closures; Java should shuffle off into the Grace Hopper Retirement Home for Defunct Corporate Languages and be replaced by something*** that had closures to begin with.
*** e.g. Scala.