Can Lebanon war wake labour movement?
FIGHT for workers' rights
is essential for anti-war
struggle and fight for humanity
around the world.
JOHN McDONNELL (in red scarf) with sacked Gate Gourmet workers. The Hayes and Harlington MP has announced his challenge for Labour leadership and will be speaking at Stop the War rally in London tomorrow.
(photo from Labour Representation Committee, http://www.l-r-c.org.uk/
COULD the horror of Israel's war on Lebanon, and Tony Blair's refusal to call for a ceasefire, wake the labour movement in this country to its international responsibility? US planes rushing uranium-tipped bombs and other munitions to Israel are still being allowed to land in Britain, after the Qana massacre of civilians. Following the row over use of Glasgow's civilian airport at Prestwick the flights have been shifted to RAF Mildenhall, in Suffolk. There are also reports of planes with Hebrew markings spotted at Brize Norton, in Oxfordshire.
Labour MP John McDonnell, now standing for the party's leadership, has said he fully supports protests against the use of this country by the US as a base for arming the Israelis with such devastating weapons which are resulting in such heavy and terrible civilian casualties.
"I go further and express my support for any workers engaged in the operation of these airports or our airspace who refuse on grounds of conscience and international law to participate in supporting the shipment of these weapons. In the light of all the evidence in recent days demonstrating the use to which the Israelis are putting these weapons I believe that workers have every right to refuse to facilitate the transportation of these weapons".
It was reported at the weekend that Britain's own arms exports to Israel doubled in the past year. Even before the present war broke out the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had condemned Israel's policy of targetted killings as against international law, but it seems this stance did not stop them issuing licenses for the necessary equipment.
"Licences approved for Israel last year included components for combat helicopters, aircraft radars, air-to-surface missiles and airborne electronic warfare equipment. Special licences were also approved for the sale to Israel of components for military training aircraft, naval radars, naval communications equipment, and optical sensors for unmanned air vehicles.
These do not include components made by British companies in US Apache helicopters and F-16 bombers sold to Israel. The government provoked a storm of protest in 2002 by introducing new guidelines on the sale of military components. It cleared the way for head-up display units (HUDs, for presenting data without blocking view) - made by BAE Systems, Britain's largest arms company - to be sold to the US for use in F-16 planes. Ministers said the move was dictated by the interests of British arms companies. British equipment used in American Apache helicopters supplied to Israel includes missile trigger systems".
So much for the "ethical dimension" which the late Robin Cook hoped to see in British foreign policy. One of Cook's civil servants scrawled "bollocks" on the Foreign Secretary's memorandum, and that's what they went for. After knocking him into shape as best they could, someone leaked details of his extra-marital indiscretions to the press and he was ousted. Since then we've had Jack Straw bending in the wind, and "sorry, I haven't a clue" Margaret Beckett.
Straw, Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells, Peter Hain and others are letting it be known they are unhappy over the war, but have yet to resign or openly challenge the prime minister.
What about the industrial wing of the labour movement, which despite the notorious links with business loans and dodgy donors remains Labour's main supporter? While striving to maintain a statesmanlike air, avoiding words like solidarity, and trusting in the United Nations, the Trades Union Congress(TUC) has expressed concern at the war and the suffering influicted on civilians and said:
"Alongside concerted international action to end the violence, urgent attention must be given to the serious and deteriorating economic and humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territories".
The TUC is supporting a call from the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions and the World Confederation of Labour for an immediate cease-fire. How far this stand is reflected in action may be seen in more trade union banners joining the anti-war march in London on Saturday.
Tory anti-union laws which Blair's "New Labour" have kept in force expose trade unionists to legal threats and victimisation even for taking action in support of fellow workers (as when Heathrow airport workers came out in support of sacked Gate Gourmet catering staff), let alone on international issues. But Liverpool dockers sacked for refusing to cross picket lines and then left high and dry by Labour say they would like to see workers taking action over the war in Lebanon. Former docks shop steward Terry Teague says:
'Over the years dockworkers have been at the forefront of organising action to stop the oppression of innocent men, women and children the world over. The boycotts of cargoes heading to or from apartheid South Africa or Pinochet’s fascist regime in Chile helped bring freedom and humanity to the people of those countries and in the case of South Africa irrevocably changed the path of the countries life style for the better.
'Although we no longer work in the Port Industry the Sacked Liverpool Dockworkers are being asked on a daily basis by many concerned trade unionists and members of the public, “should dockworkers in the United Kingdom be loading or discharging cargoes heading to or from Israel when that country is causing death and destruction to the people and the country of Lebanon”. Our answer is a straight forward “no they shouldn’t be working Israeli cargoes whilst the current bombardment of Lebanon continues”.
'Unfortunately there is very little that we can do about the situation in terms of direct action, but we can organise opposition and campaign against the carnage that is currently taking place in the Middle East which we intend to do and repectfully ask our international comrades to update us with any news of meetings or planned actions that they might be considering within their Ports.
The Sacked Liverpool Dockworkers'
More than once in meetings talking about action over Iraq or Palestine I have had to remind people of the way workers like the Liverpool dockers were treated, and the restrictions on working people in Britain, who possibly have fewer rights than any in western Europe. Now we might reflect on how failure to fully support the dockers or rescind anti-union laws has sapped the ability of ordinary working people in Britain to do anything when we are let down and disgraced by this government. We need to break the spell and restore fighting confidence.
As Blair flies off to sun himself in Barbados, John McDonnell has demanded that Parliament be recalled to debate the war in Lebanon:
"The military invasion of Lebanon by Israel and the escalation in the number of Hezbollah rocket attacks on Israel is a sure indication that far from being a limited and short lived enagagement the fighting in Lebanon is deteriorating into a full scale war,' McDonnell said. "Unless some resolution is found shortly there must be a real risk of other states being drawn into the conflict. . .
'The Bush/Blair strategy is failing before our eyes at such a dreadful cost in terms of loss of life and human suffering. The latest total of lives lost is nearly 700, with nearly 1 million refugees displaced in the Lebanon. We need to have an urgent and open debate on what we as a country can do to bring a swift end to the current escalating conflict and what role we can play with others to help prevent future aggression. One step in starting this critical debate would be the recall of Parliament. I called for the recall of Parliament last Sunday. Other MPs have now joined that call. What is the Prime Minister's fear of having a Parliamentary debate?
'We hear that a debate went on in Cabinet and a number of Cabinet Ministers have let it leak out that they questioned the Prime Minister's strategy. I have to say Cabinet Ministers trying to salve their consciences in this cowardly and pathetic way is almost as disgraceful as Tony Blair supporting the Bush strategy. If Cabinet Ministers had spoken out in public in opposing Tony Blair's support for the Bush line or had even done the honourable thing and resigned in order to speak out on this issue, I would have had some respect for them.
To hide behind leaks and off the record briefings is degrading. If those in Cabinet who were concerned about the Bush/Blar strategy had acted decisively together there may have been the opportunity of securing a break with Bush and Britain joining with others in calling for an immediate ceasefire. Their failure to act implicates them in this failure to demand and secure peace and end the killing in Lebanon, Gaza and Israel'.
'Recalling Parliament would give every Member of Parliament the opportunity to speak and vote on the basis of their conscience. If Parliament is recalled, I would wish to see the opportunity given to MPs to vote on a motion to determine Britain's independent strategy and for this vote to be unwhipped'.
John McDonnell is regarded as a rank outsider in the fight for Labour leadership. Establishment media, preferring trivial pursuits about personalities to discussion of serious politics, will probably do their best not to give him a mention. But already his campaign seems to be giving new heart to people still in the Labour Party on the Left. Results for elections to the Labour Party's National Executive Committee in the individual members category show Ann Black, Ellie Reeves, Christine Shawcroft, Peter Wheeler, Peter Willsman, and Walter Wolfgang have been elected. Black, Shawcroft, Willsman and Wolfgang reportedly topped the poll, and are all regarded as on the Left.
Walter Wolfgang is the octagenarian pensioner and nuclear disarmer thrown out of last year's Labour Party conference for heckling Jack Straw, and the Blair leadership campaigned to stop him getting on to the NEC. I expect that helped.
Tony Blair has had to postpone his holiday because of the Lebanon crisis.
We're glad it causes him some inconveniance. But for what good he will do, we've a better idea. Let's bring forward his retirement!