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The Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh (ACE ) is a hub for radical activity and organising in the Scottish capital. PN Scotland editor Sarah Young interviews Mike from the ACE Collective.

It's ACE !

PN: Tell us some background about ACE.

M: ACE dates back to the council-funded Edinburgh Unemployed Workers' Centre in the 1980s. The Centre had been prominent in the movement for non-payment of the poll tax and other sorts of direct action.

In 1992 the council cut off all funding. So the Centre users took it over and ran it collectively.

In summer 1994, the council issued an eviction notice and then we occupied the building 24 hours a day until 5am, 1 December, when police and sheriff officers sledgehammered their way in the door.

Resisting the eviction

But we had an emergency phone tree and people turned up to resist the eviction. Police reinforcements were brought in from all around the Lothians. It took them hours to finally evict the building, and 23 of us were arrested.

But the group stayed together without the building. It was a time of resistance to the Criminal Justice Bill and the Claimants Group was very active because it was when the Job Seekers Allowance was being introduced. There were a lot of occupations at Job Centres and so on.

Then, early in 1997, we found this building and we have been here ever since.

For years the premises have been pretty run-down, but someone generously gave us a donation, and we completely renovated ACE.

Leith Wholefoods sells good organic food here at reasonable prices, that's brought a lot of new people in.

Another new thing, now we have facilities to show films, and soon we're starting screen-printing.

PN: What social and political movements is ACE a part of now?

M: There are women's collectives, for example the Women's Health Workshops. The recent forum event on “Queer History” was really successful.

Edinburgh Claimants have held advice sessions here ever since 1997. People can drop in for support and solidarity over benefits and debt problems.

Twinned with Zapatistas

Then there is the Chiapas Solidarity Group which is twinned with Zapatista villages in Mexico. Some folk are really involved in the struggle over climate change and a group went down to the Climate Camp at Heathrow this summer.

ACE is about people organising to take control over their own lives. Just about all of us see it as something that is revolutionary. The issues can be joined up together - peoples' needs can only be met by revolutionary change from the bottom.

PN: What direction is ACE taking?

M: We are trying to broaden the claimants-work by starting a Solidarity Network where anybody that's up against the authorities can get direct practical solidarity, whether it's about housing, work, benefits, debt or whatever.

Often we are able to sort things out by pressurising the benefits manager or the electricity company or whatever, but sometimes they just dig their heels in.

Solidarity Network

The Network would contact people so they could turn up - say at the benefits office or workplace - stage some kind of direct action and basically not budge until the thing is sorted out.

Networks like this are already working well in Ontario and in Paris.

One of the folk in ACE was very involved in the opposition to the privatising of social housing in Edinburgh.

Against all the odds, council tenants voted to reject the privatisation that the council had spent millions on pushing. But there is a real need for a movement over more social housing.

PN: What are the other issues just now?

M: This year Edinburgh Council published a huge list of cutbacks. They wanted to close down over 20 schools, nurseries and community centres.

This was met by complete outrage and the main closure program was stopped, but they are still pressing ahead with cutbacks, so that is the sort of thing that we hope to link up with local people over.

PN: How are people going to start reconnecting with politics?

M: I think in the end it has got to come out of people's everyday lives.

A lot of people don't have a fixed long-term workplace any more, so there needs to be a way of organising that reflects the fact that people are in a more precarious position, moving in and out of work and maybe also moving about a bit, so this is where the idea of the Solidarity Network comes in.

We also have to realise that when struggles break out, the people who are directly involved in them, whether they consider themselves to be revolutionaries or not, are often practically in advance of what long-term activists would have thought possible.

Contact: Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh, 17 West Montgomery Place, Edinburgh EH7 5HA. Open Sat 11-6, Tues 1-4, Thurs 6-8pm. http://www.autonomous.org.uk http://www.edinburghclaimants.org

Topics: Culture