Thursday, November 29, 2007

After Annapolis: the fight goes on

WHILE Olmert was on the way to Annapolis, the settlers carried out a pogrom in the West Bank village of Funduk.
WHILE the leaders shook hands in Annapolis, the Israeli army killed eight Palestinians.
WHILE Olmert expressed "understanding for the sufferings of the Palestinians", the blockade that starves the population there went on.
Olmert gave the conference a wreath of beautiful promises. He must prove that they are not rubber checks.

THAT'S the succinct statement which Israeli peace activists from Gush Shalom are posting as an ad in the daily Ha'aretz tomorrow.

YESTERDAY, while I was helping marshall people in the House of Commons lobby who had come to see their MPs about Palestine, Britain's Foreign Secretary David Miliband was making a statement about the Annapolis peace summit. Unlike some of the more hopeful lobbyists who spoke to me yesterday, I was not expecting much from Miliband so I have not been disappointed.

"For several years there has been neither peace nor a peace process in the Middle East", Miliband acknowledged. "Insecurity for Israelis and suffering of Palestinians have fed off each other, deepening divides and fomenting mutual distrust. The Conference represents a determined attempt by both sides, and by the United States, to break the cycle of violence and discord".

Urging "a new drive for peace based on the vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side", the Foreign Secretary claimed there was now a " clear and shared goal", as stated by George Bush, “to immediately launch good faith bilateral negotiations in order to conclude a peace treaty resolving all outstanding issues, including all core issues without exception, as specified in previous agreements.”

Promising British support for a resumed "road map" and programme of future talks, and British economic aid, he said " our priority is to help build effective national Palestinian Security Forces. We have been involved with this effort for several years now. We commit our people, resources and experience to making a difference on the ground. In Nablus, in Bethlehem, in Jericho - where I saw raw recruits for myself ten days ago - the fight for security is the fight for legitimacy and hope for the Palestinian people".

Funny he should mention Jericho. Reminds me of how his predecessor collaborated in withdrawing British observers from Jericho prison an hour or less before Israeli forces stormed it and took away prisoners. We might guess that the British government's notion of Palestinian "security" does not apply to security against the Israelis, but to dealing with other Palestinians.

Reminding us that this is not just a Labour government, but New Labour, Miliband had a word on bread and butter questions.

" Prosperity driven by the private sector needs reform driven by the public sector. This is why the Reform and Development Plan prepared by Prime Minister Fayyad is a statement of intent – about clean government, about responsible budgeting, about politics based on promises that are made to be kept."

"This will only bear fruit if Palestinians are given the freedom to work, to trade and to reap the benefits of commerce. The efforts of Tony Blair are vital in this regard".

Does talk of "freedom" only mean Brownite reliance on the private sector (which was not the way Israel was built, and is not working so well in Britain either), or will Israel have to pull out its roadbloacks, take down the Wall, and as first move, lift its siege on Gaza?

"Fourth we should not lose sight of Gaza, an integral part of a future Palestinian state. Continuing rocket fire into Israel by extremist groups within Gaza is a reminder of the dangers Israel faces. However, the deteriorating humanitarian situation is a real cause of concern. The UN Secretary General spoke forcefully to this issue yesterday and we support his efforts to ensure that the interests of the civilian population are not forgotten".

Not a word about the wall, the siege, or the destructive attacks that have reduced the majority of people in Gaza to dependence on inadequate UN relief handouts.

There were other fine words from Miliband about peace and humanity for Israelis and Palestinians, and you can read the full speech at

I was not entirely disappointed with Miliband, because I was not expecting much. After the Palestinian under-19 football side was refused visas to come to Britain, I wrote to the new Foreign Secretary, on behalf of the Jewish Socialists' Group, requesting an explanation, and urging Miliband to give a pledge that Britain would assist the Palestinian sportsmen to come here in the near future. It was a chance for him to show some earnest of a desire to help hopes for peace. All we got was a reply from some official in the Visas Department who said he was not at liberty to give reasons why the visas had been denied. Yesterday I mentioned this to a Labour Party member on the lobby, who told me that her MP had received the same standard reply.

But as the Foreign Secretary whom Labour never appointed Gerald Kaufman told lobbyists yesterday, without doing something now about the siege, releasing detained Palestinian MPs and talking with all elected leaders, Annapolis is doomed to fail as a peace process.

That's assuming it was intended to do more than provide Bush and his allies in the Middle East with yet another "road map" to respectability, while they plan the next war, with Iran.

Israeli right-wingers, including members of the government, are accusing Olmert of sell-out merely for agreeing to discuss borders, settlements, refugees, and Jerusalem in future. Others in Israel are talking ominously of "solving the problem" of Palestinians in Israel - the demand on Arab leaders is not just to recognise Israel but to recognise it as "a Jewish state". As a Muslim speaker warned in the lobby meeting yesterday, this sounds like they are planning "transfer".

As other speakers said yesterday, the important thing now is not to be transfixed by what was said or not said at Annapolis, but concentrate on what happens on the ground, and what we do.

That's why I'm off to Whitehall to take part in a demonstration demanding an end to the siege of Gaza.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Victorian Exploitation without borders

TOMORROW is the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people, and today I am going to the Houses of Parliament at Westminster to assist in a lobby of MPs. Coming just after the 90th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration (on which I have an article in the latest issue of Jewish Socialist), as well as the 60th anniversary of the UN vote for partition, and with Israeli and Arab leaders supposedly talking peace in Annapolis while Israel maintains its siege on Gaza with British compliance, this is an appropriate time and place for lobbying.

I saw my own local MP in the lobby last year, and talked to him particularly about what was happening to people in Gaza. He nodded agreement, took notes, and invited me to send more information. So far as as I can see he has done nothing about it. But still we persist, though today I will be mainly helping other lobbyers, and tomorrow maybe have something to write about it. Incidentally I was pleased the other night to see an item on television news about Arab workers, including kids, being exploited in Israeli West Bank settlements, harvesting dates which are put on sale in British supermarkets labelled "Made in Israel".

Meanwhile Palestinian farmers have seen their own lands seized, or been prevented from working them by the wall, or been stopped from getting their produce to market by military roadblocks. But nobody calls that a boycott, nor are we supposed to make a connection between the destruction of Palestinian economy and people being forced to become cheap labour..

Meanwhile, I looked over the river Jordan, and what did I see, but another story of oppression. While working people are shoved around, controlled, and called a "problem", capital goes freely around the world looking for workers to exploit and governments to give tax breaks and keep the workers in order. That includes companies trading on their fun and fashion image, especially in the 'festive season' An American colleague has passed me this message:

Subject: Ask Victoria's Secret to stop its abuse of foreign guest workers in Jordan
Date: Mon, 26 Nov 2007 17:27:09 -0500 (EST)
From: National Labor Committee

This holiday season ask Victoria's Secret to stop its abuse of foreign guest workers in Jordan and to immediately free six Victoria's Secret workers imprisoned under trumped-up charges.
D.K. Garments, Al Hasan Industrial CityIrbid, Jordan.

D.K. Garments is a subcontract factory with 150 foreign guest workers (135 from Bangladesh and 15 from Sri Lanka), which has been producing Victoria's Secret garments for the last year. None of the workers have been provided their necessary residency permits, without which they cannot venture outside the industrial park without fear of being stopped by the police and perhaps imprisoned for lack of proper documents.

The Victoria's Secret workers toil 14 to 15 hours a day, from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 or 10:00 p.m., seven days a week, receiving on average one day off every three or four months. All overtime is mandatory, and workers are routinely at the factory 98 to 105 hours a week while toiling 89 to 96 hours. Treatment is very rough, as managers and supervisors scream at the foreign guest workers to move faster to complete their high production goals.

Workers who fall behind on their production goals, or who make even a minor error, can be slapped and beaten. Despite being forced to work five or more overtime hours a day, the workers are routinely shortchanged on their legal overtime pay, being cheated of up to $18.48 each week in wages due them. While this might not seem like a great deal of money, to these poor workers it is the equivalent of losing three regular days' wages each week.

Workers are allowed just 3.3 minutes to sew each $14 Victoria's Secret women's bikini, for which they are paid four cents. The workers' wages amount to less than 3/10ths of one percent of the $14 retail price of the Victoria's Secret bikini.

The workers are housed in primitive dorms which have only irregular access to water. During winter months, when the temperatures can drop to freezing, the workers' dorms have neither heat nor hot water. Many workers fall ill from the constant cold.


In early November 2007, when a new style of Victoria's Secrets women's underwear arrived, management set a mandatory production goal of 2,800 pieces per 10-hour shift for each assembly line of 22 sewers. It was almost impossible to reach this goal, as the workers were allowed just five minutes to sew each garment. Then on November 11, management suddenly increased the production goal to 4,000 pieces in 10 hours, an increase of 1,200 garments--or 43 percent more--with no increase in wages. Now, in effect, each worker would have to sew 18.2 garments an hour, or one every 3.3 minutes, which was impossible.

The workers protested the sudden, arbitrary increase. They wanted to speak with management, to explain how such an extreme production goal was not only unjust, but impossible to achieve.Management responded by having six of the most outspoken workers protesting the sudden production goal increase imprisoned--apparently on trumped-up charges.

The Following Workers Have Been Imprisoned Since November 11, 2007Mr. Kamal Factory ID # 467Mr. Farook Factory ID # 553Mr. Motin Factory ID # 589Mr. Delwar Factory ID # 563Mr. Mostafa Factory ID # 544Mr. Shohel Factory ID # 505

The workers begged management to free their unjustly imprisoned friends and co-workers. Management refused and the workers stopped working at 10:30 a.m. on November 12. The strike continues.

The owner of the factory is now threatening to have all the guest workers forcibly deported back to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The owner says food and water will be cut off and following that, the workers will be forcibly removed from the dorms.

The workers paid anywhere from $1,500 to over $3,000 to purchase three-year work contracts in Jordan--an enormous amount of money in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Workers had to go deeply into debt, borrowing the money on the informal market, often at five to ten percent interest per month, If the workers are deported, they will never be able to pay off their debts, and they and their families will be ruined.

BACKGROUND:I. 14 to 15 Hour Shifts / Seven Days a Week(Workers at the factory 98 to 105 hours a week)
7:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. (Work, 5 1/2 hours)
12:30 p.m. - 1:30 p.m. (Lunch, 1 hour)
1:30 p.m. - 6:30 p.m. (Work, 5 hours)
6:30 p.m. - 6:45 p.m. (Break, 15 minutes)
6:45 p.m. - 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. (Work, 2 1/4 to 3 1/4 hours)

II. 75 Cent-an-hour Minimum Wage
75 cents an hour
$5.97 a day (8 hours)
$35.84 a week (48 hours)
$155.30 a month
$1,863.62 a year

III. The legal regular work week is eight hours a day, six days a week, for a total of 48 hours. All weekday overtime must be paid at a 25 percent premium, or 93 cents an hour. Work on Friday's--the Muslim holiday--must be paid at a 50 percent premium, or $1.12 an hour.On average D.K. Garments foreign guest workers are forced to work 5 1/4 overtime hours each weekday in addition to 13 1/4 overtime hours on Friday, the weekly day off. Each day the workers are being shortchanged of 2 3/4 hours' overtime pay legally due them, or $18.48 a week. In effect, this is the equivalent of losing three days' regular pay each week, which is an enormous amount of money for these poor workers.

Please write The Limited/Victoria's Secret and urge them to respect workers rights in Jordan.
[Write to the person / address below; edit the sample text as appropriate.]

Leslie Wexner, CEOLimited Brands Inc.3 Limited Pkwy. Columbus, Ohio 43230 United States
Phone: (614) 415-7000 Fax: (614) 415-7080 E-mail:

Dear Mr. Wexner,
Please stop the abuse of Victoria's Secret's foreign guest workers at the D.K. Garments plant in Irbid, Jordan, and immediately release six workers imprisoned under trumped up charges.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

SA building workers settle for bonus

WHILE I was posting up that report about South African building workers yesterday, it seems the building workers had already got a result. What worked it seems was the threat of solidarity action across the stadia sites. Now employers fear this could be just a start, before these workers make their own claims.

Here, courtesy of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), is the news:

1.1 ‘Bonuses’ settle Durban stadium strike

David Christianson, 20 November 2007, Business Day

NUM hails R6000 payments but industry calls them a disguised pay increase and fears similar demands elsewhere

KwaZulu-Natal Correspondent

DURBAN — Workers have agreed to end their 12-day strike at Moses Mabhida Stadium, but the agreement to provide them with two project bonuses over and above their wages could open the way for similar demands by staff at other 2010 venues.

In terms of the agreement, workers employed by the primary contractors — a joint venture between Group Five, WBHO and Pandev — would be paid a project bonus in two phases.

On December 14, the industry’s last working day of the year, workers will be paid R2000. A second bonus of R4000 will be paid on May 31, the day on which construction of the main structure is due to be completed.

The agreement stated that “there will be no further industrial action at the Durban stadium project relating to any of the issues raised during this dispute and those covered by the industry main agreement or sectoral determinations”.

National Union of Mineworker (NUM) spokesman for KwaZulu-Natal Bonginkosi Mncwabe said there was no reason to strike again in the period ending May 31 “unless disaster happens”.

Despite the fact that the NUM “did not achieve 100% of what we wanted”, he said the union was pleased with the outcome.

“We settled for a project bonus that works out at R500 a month less than we wanted”, he said.

The NUM originally demanded a project bonus of R1500 a month, while the amount agreed on worked out at about R1000 a month.

Mncwabe said both sides had “learnt a great deal about each other during the strike” and had “devised a mechanism for dealing with issues like this in fut
The two other substantive issues resolved were the election of an additional health and safety officer, to be paid for by the joint venture, and an agreement that “the joint venture will assist with the enforcement of sectoral determination and/or industry agreements that apply to subcontractors working on the project”.

However, South African Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors manpower director Muller Uys said there was nothing in the agreement to stop workers at other 2010 stadiums going on strike to obtain similar bonuses.

Mncwabe agreed: “Our agreement does not deal with what is happening outside Moses Mabhida Stadium. If workers elsewhere want to take up issues, that is their baby.”

The contractors’ federation, which negotiates nationally on behalf of employers in the construction industry, reached a three-year agreement with the unions in the bargaining chamber in August last year. That agreement promised workers an 8% increase a year each year for three years.

“This is simply opportunistic behaviour on the part of the NUM”, said Uys. He said the project bonus was “a disguised wage increase”, and that the agreement was “outside the national agreemen
In a statement, the Group Five-WBHO-Pandev joint venture said that “the agreement applies to the Moses Mabhida Stadium only”.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Apartheid ended, injustice remains

FAMILY and friends of Patrick O'Sullivan, who was killed in an accident while working on the new Wembley Stadium, unveiled a plaque commemorating him at the stadium recently. Having had to miss the Workers Memorial Day march which was held in Wembley three years ago in Pat's honour, I was pleased to be able to attend this ceremony, and proud that Brent Trades Union Council had joined the O'Sullivan family, the Construction Safety Campaign, and the building unions in campaigning successfully for the plaque.

It was also a sad occasion of course, remembering Pat O'Sullivan and all the other workers killed or injured at work, and wondering whether we would succeed in ensuring safety in the London Olympic project.

Big building projects, especially if for international sports events, are always occasions for celebration, not least for the big money they promise developers and contractors, some of which is supposed to trickle down to the working class. What really happens to conditions and safety, or as in this next case, in workers' actual earnings, does not receive the same attention.

South Africa is preparing to host the football world cup in 2010, and there are bound to be celebrations, particularly remembering the sporting isolation brought on the country by the old Apartheid regime. But what about the workers, whose struggles did so much to force an end to Apartheid, and whose sweat is needed to cement forthcoming success?

A friend, like me a member of the TGWU Unite union, received this message last week from a South African comrade:
Another shame have emerged in South Africa on the part of working class, Building workers who build the stadium for 2010 soccer world game are on strike because of poor wages they are paid. They are paid R65, a day out that money the cheapest meal they can get is R30 to spend during working hours and the cheapest transport return home to work is R16. Therefore the total cost is R46. R65 -46 =R19.
How can one person SURVIVE with R19 a day where the lowest rent is R20 a day exclusive water and lights, this is what a democratic government has for the ordinary citizen of SOUTH AFRICA.




The labour movement in Britain has been reluctant to criticise anything about post-Apartheid South Africa. Perhaps liberals and lefties alike have been too busy patting themselves on the back for the part they and the "international community" supposedly played in ending Apartheid, to acknowledge that while some leaders have done well for themselves, the workers and fighters who bore the brunt are still struggling against exploitation. Maybe our bureaucrats envy their counterparts' apparent ability to combine hero-status with opportunism. But it's good to see that links are being forged between class-conscious workers, as seen in this resolution adopted by the new national shop stewards' network, London-South East section, in support of the South African building workers.

( Incidentally, I like the mention of British anti-union laws. This takes away any taint of patronising the African workers, and is a welcome change from the conferences I've been to where high-flown resolutions of "solidarity" are passed and boycotts proposed without ever a hint that our leaders will tell us they are illegal to carry out.)

Full support to South African building workers:
:To: Thenjiwe (
National Union of Mine Workers
7 Rissik Steet,
Corner Frederick Street,

Dear sisters and brothers,
The London, South and East region of the National Shop Stewards Network salutes the strike of building workers on the World Cup 2010 sites and sends its full support for your struggle.We note that building workers on these sites are working for as little as R6 and hour – 44p in UK currency -- which could not even buy a cup of tea in our country; that solidarity strikes by other workers on the sites is a central feature of this dispute.

We have to tell you in shame that such solidarity actions are illegal in our country, where the anti-trade union laws of the Thatcher Tory government have been upheld by the New Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown;
That countless freedom fighters were prepared to risk their lives to overthrow apartheid, but that ministers and officials of the present ANC government are among the owners of the building contracting companies against whom you are striking for a living wage; that the facilities you are building will serve the enjoyment and entertainment of millions of workers all over the world when the World Cup competition takes place in 2010.

It is only right that the construction workers on the job should receive an adequate wage for their labour and should work under safe and dignified conditions.We therefore call on workers all over the world: Speak out against the exploitation of workers on the World Cup stadiums! Speak out for working class unity across the world! Pass resolutions in your trade union organisations and workshop meetings! Make it known that you will not let this shameful situation pass in silence!

On South African strike see:

For more information on the national shop stewards' network:

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Safe in whose hands?

Unknown building worker statue, and wreath from UCATT

FELLOW-blogger Dave Osler often has a quite different take than me on matters of theory and the Left, but on straightforward class issues he can see straight to the point:
"Two employees of Network Rail - the company that maintains Britain's network of railway tracks - have been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter in connection with the Grayrigg rail crash in February, in which an 84 year old woman died.
Meanwhile, the Health and Safety Executive has decided not to bring a criminal prosecution against the management of Stoke Mandeville NHS trust, despite two outbreaks of superbug clostridium difficile between October 2003 and June 2005, which killed 33 people.
The message here is quite obvious. Only manual workers have to account for the consequences of their negligence. Wear a decent suit and - nine times out of ten, anyway - you'll get away with it".

This class view of law and safety matters has been reinforced by an academic study just released, and from a university which is well-known for its links with the world of business:

Courts disqualify company directors risking pounds almost 300 times more often than those risking people
Research shows that courts disqualify company directors risking pounds almost 300 times more often than directors risking people’s health and safety.Research published this week by the University of Warwick’s School of Law for the Health and Safety Executive, has found that for almost 20 years company directors were almost 300 times more likely to be disqualified by a court from acting as a director for insolvency or other financial reasons than they were for breaching health and safety rules.

"The report, entitled "A survey of the use and effectiveness of the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986 as a legal sanction against directors convicted of health and safety offences", by Professor Alan Neal and Professor Frank Wright of the Employment Law Research Unit of the University of Warwick, looked at the use made of powers contained in the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986 in relation to disqualification orders related to health and safety failures in the management of companies. In particular, the research considered the effectiveness of director disqualification under the 1986 Act as a legal sanction against directors convicted of health and safety offences. The University of Warwick researchers found that the provisions of the Act were very clear, and needed no further clarification or additional legislation in order to provide adequate sanctions for breaches of health and safety duties. What they did find, however, was a surprising failure to utilise those very clear sanctions.

"From the records made available to them, the researchers were able to identify just ten directors who had been disqualified for health and safety reasons between the date when the 1986 Act took effect and the end point of their study in 2005. At less than one a year, this compares markedly to the overall total of some 1500+ company directors disqualified by the courts each year for insolvency or other financial reasons.However the University of Warwick team were able to establish clear reasons as to why there had been so few disqualifications even though the 1986 made this available as a clear option.In interviews conducted with HSE operations directors and their counterparts within local authorities, there emerged a surprisingly low level of awareness of the 1986 Act provisions.
"University of Warwick Professor Alan Neal said, 'We found a marked absence of awareness even of what potential powers may be contained within the 1986 Act.'
The University of Warwick team also concluded that much more could have been done to brief prosecution teams in relation to their ability to seek disqualifications and the desirability of actually doing so. In particular, they suggested that steps needed to be taken to develop and draw up guidelines for prosecutors in relation to appropriate circumstances in which an application for a disqualification order might be made to a court. There should also be a direction to all prosecutors (whether HSE, local authorities, or those acting as "agents" for the prosecuting authorities) in relevant cases of health and safety management shortcomings that any court which returns a guilty verdict in relation to a relevant indictable offence should be reminded of the powers available under the 1986 Act.
The Warwick Professors also recommended that arrangements should be put in place to supervise and monitor all health and safety prosecution files, with a view to identifying cases where it would be appropriate to make application for a disqualification order, and that, in any event, a formal return should be made by all prosecutors in respect of the outcomes of any cases handled by them before the courts. The researchers concluded that, provided that these recommendations were introduced speedily, there was no reason to call for amendment of the existing powers contained in the 1986 Act. However, it was observed that, in the longer term, there would be a need for the Health and Safety Commission and the Health and Safety Executive to engage actively in the development of guidelines for boardroom and director conduct in relation to health and safety issues.Since the research was completed, the Health and Safety Commission have given detailed consideration to the Warwick report and have responded quickly. The Commission have recognised the need for inspectors to seek greater use by the courts of director disqualification as a penalty, and new instructions on this matter have now been issued to inspectors. Last month, Professor Wright joined Lord McKenzie, Minister for Health and Safety, at the Institute of Directors in London, to launch the latest IOD/HSE Guidance on Leadership Actions for Directors and Board Members. Meanwhile, on 27 July 2007 the government’s Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 was passed, with provisions due to come into force on 6 April 2008.

For the full report see:
For further details please contact:
Professor Alan C. Neal
School of Law,
University of Warwick
Tel: 024 7652 3205

Peter Dunn, Press and Media Relations Manager,
University of Warwick
Tel: 024 76 523708 or 07767 655860


Among those who have steadily pressed for action against company directors over safety breaches and particularly fatalities has been the Construction Safety Campaign(CSC). With the government backing away from promised action on corporate manslaughter, and cutting back on the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)'s already inadequate resources for inspections, the need for campaigning remains as strong as ever.
Last week I was at a meeting at the London Hazards Centre where I heard about the possible impact of HSE cuts on site inspections in what is still probably Britain's most dangerous industry, construction (a position in which it is only possibly rivalled by farming, or fishing).
Despite the Construction Safety Campaign's pioneering role, both in making a safety a public issue and involving people like the families of accident victims in their campaigns, it seems to be coming under pressure now to hand over responsibility for initiatives, and marking Workers Memorial Day to union officialdom. That could be a pity. True the unions have offices, staff, lawyers and resources , and as trades unionists themselves the CSC members will be only too glad to see more of these put into campaigning on safety.

They have not taken a narrow view either, despite the particular dangers in construction. For instance friends and relatives of Simon Jones, who was killed in his first hour working on Shoreham docks (decapitated by a crane grab that shouldn't have been in use) were welcomed to join CSC campaigners demonstrating at the HSE a few years ago. More recently the mother of a young man killed in Battersea by a falling crane, though he was not working on the site but was outside his home, was able to speak at the Workers Memorial Day event. The CSC has helped and encouraged the Battersea community-based crane safety campaign
Union officials have been slow to realise the importance of involving people in this way. They have been known to ask grieving relatives or those affected by asbestos whether a man had been a member of their union before being willing to take up the case. And though more willing to join with Construction Safety Campaign efforts in the past few years than they were originally, some union officials seem still too concerned with competing for status and turf in a way that rank-and-file workers find exasperating, and which can only be a turn-off for the public, if not a bad joke.
This year's workers' memorial day march ran into problems at the planning stage because, hearing that it was proposed to culminate in a rally at Tower Hill, by the memorial to the unknown building worker, regarded as a UCATT building union spot, somebody from my own TGWU Unite union (which also has members in the building industry) insisted the march must stop en route at a TGWU memorial - which happened to be that of Ernest Bevin, one-time union leader, wartime Minister of Labour responsible for conscripting workers for the mines, Labour's post-war Foreign Secretary, colonialist and Cold Warrior.
(Some people go on about "Leninists", I am not over-fond of Stalinists, but I sometimes wonder if there's not a much more shady lot around whom we should investigate, the Bevinists!)
Difficult as they find it co-operating with other unions, some union leaders insist against all the odds that workplace safety can be achieved in "partnership" with management. They don't like initiatives coming up from the rank-and-file, but are all too ready to listen and co-operate with the government. Next year's Workers' Memorial Day will come only a few days before Greater London elections, and the pressure is already on to play down May Day celebrations and anything else that might distract from "stopping the BNP", or, in reality, working for Labour. Surrendering the day to officialdom could be fatal.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Kings Cross

THEY laid a wreath at Kings Cross station today in memory of the 31 people killed in the fire which broke out underground, 20 years ago, on 18 November, 2007. You can see a small memorial as you cross the interchange area between lines. It's one of the busiest thoroughfares on the London transport system, and you may have to dodge people rushing by if you stop to look. But it is worth pausing to reflect that it could have been you or any of the other passengers and staff down there, and to honour the bravery of the transport and emergency service workers who tried to help people.

The fire started at 7.30pm and it was not till the following day that firefighters finally had it quelled.

It's also worth remembering the likely causes. The blaze was caused by a smoker's carelessly discarded match, according to news commentators today. Well, maybe. But that wasn't all.

Wikipedia says: "The stairs and sides of the escalator, where the catastrophe started, were made of wood. The fire was most probably caused by a lighted match which was discarded on the escalator and fell down the side of the escalator onto the return track. The track had not been properly cleaned for some time and was heavily contaminated by rubbish and grease, which caught fire. Although smoking was banned on the subsurface sections of the London Underground in February 1985 (a consequence of the Oxford Circus fire), smokers often lit up on their way out of the system.

Other possible causes such as arson and an IRA bomb were quickly rejected as possible causes of the fire, mainly because of the strong evidence pointing to discarded smokers' materials.

The fire started beneath the escalator, spread above it, then flashed over and filled the ticket hall with flames and smoke. Investigations later showed that a particular combination of draughts and winds, caused by the trains moving in and out of the station that day, added to the speed of the fire spreading. Witnesses described a firestorm moving into the ticket hall, created by a chimney effect on the angled escalator and helped by the wind rushing in from below. Forensic investigation found charred wood in 18 places beneath the up escalator, which showed that fires had started before by the same cause but had run out of fuel without spreading. All these small fires were on the right hand (standing) side, which is where standing passengers are most likely to light a cigarette: passengers stand on the right to let walking passengers pass on the left."

But even without the match, fires underground - in mines - have often been caused by the heat built up from friction on a conveyor belt; and what is an escalator but a specialised conveyor belt system for carrying humans? But for the heat to cause a blaze also requires tinder - something inflammable which can catch flame before igniting the slower burning wood -in this case of the escalators. In factories and large scale laundries, wherever transmission belts operate it is important to keep the areas clean of fluff and waste etc. But on the Underground?

"Staff cuts across the Underground in the 1980s had diminished the frequency of routine cleaning in stations. At King's Cross, this caused dangerous levels of grease, dust and debris to gather in the undercarriages of the escalators. On 18 November 1987, that highly flammable accumulation beneath the Piccadilly line escalator caught fire. The flames first burnt low down in the escalator trench, rather than burning upwards. They burned for some time, fuelled by the dirt and grease, building up a significant heat and power. Since the flames were not visible, the strength and size of the blaze were underestimated".

Someone must have decided that it was alright to cut staff and cleaning in order to save money. Presumably they did not imagine the consequances. Not everything we know now about possible tube fires was known then. But that is no reason to justify hiding what we know now and what was known then, behind the unknown smoker and his discarded match explanation.

"Suddenly Britain is a Third World country", was an Asian friend's comment as we heard the news of the Kings Cross disaster.

The late 1980s was a period of disasters. On March 6, 1987, 193 people had drowned when the appropriately named Herald of Free Enterprise capsized off Zeebrugge. The known instability of ro-ro ferries was not diminished by having officers and crew under pressure to achieve quick turnaround, and the ferry sailing with its bow doors still open. Had it not been for the rescue effort by the Belgian navy many more people could have died.

On December 12, 1988 there was the Clapham Junction train crash, on what is probably London's busiest and biggest complex of lines. The inquiry found that a signal had been faultily wired, probably by an overtired electrician working too much overtime.

On August 20, 1989, a dredger collided with and sank the Marchioness, a Thames pleasure boat. The boat's captain and 51 people attending a party on board were drowned. A sad but fitting end to the era of unbrdled free enterprise and deregulation presided over by Margaret Thatcher. But though removed from Downing Street the following year, her legacy has continued, as seen in the train crashes, dirty hospitals, and other disasters since privatisation, to which New Labour remains dedicated.

Railway workers opposing government attempts to relax fire regulations:

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Is Brent roadblock on the Palestine 'Road Map'?


IS the London Borough of Brent, proud of its multi-cultural harmony, destined to contribute a block on the Middle East's path to peace? Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas have agreed to meet in a week's time at Annapolis, in Maryland, and say they will negotiate "immediately and continuously" to reach a final peace. Arab states will also be represented.

One still hears talk of the Western government's "road map" (for instance from the British TUC), even though there is little left of the Palestine promised in the Oslo talks, and Gaza remains like a giant prison, under siege.

Meanwhile a host of Israeli and Arab intellectuals are talking at London's School of Oriental and Arab Studies(SOAS) this weekend for a conference entitled "Challenging the Boundaries: A Single State in Palestine/Israel". Most seem to have found niches in academic life here, and who can blame them? But maybe it would have been more realistic to phrase that "A single state in Palestine - Israel". Because the prospects for a Palestinian state of any kind right now are looking very grim and limited.

Anyone who wants to put a brave face on it, saying "good, we never liked the 'two-state solution' anyway" could find themselves in a position reminiscent of German communists in 1933 saying "well, that's bourgeois democracy out of the way", or as some did "after Hitler our turn", only to find themselves on the same trains with the social democrats with whom they'd had such differences. .

The Israeli Labour Party and Zionist "doves" used to talk about "land for peace", but what we have seen continuing, whatever talks were held, is land for settlements. And that is where the London borough of Brent, though better known for housing refugees than embassies, has been given its surprising role, even if its a bit part. I've talked about the Israeli property companies on show at Wembley last week, but I'll let the Guardian take up the story.,,2212348,00.html
Homes in illegal Israeli settlements for sale at London expo
Haroon Siddique
Friday November 16, 2007
Guardian Unlimited
Israeli companies are using UK property shows to sell housing in illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, Guardian Unlimited can reveal.
At the Israel Property Exhibition at Brent town hall, North London last Sunday, one company, Anglo-Saxon Real Estate, was offering for sale properties in Maale Adumim and Maccabim. Both West Bank settlements lie on the Palestinian side of the so-called green line, the pre-1967 boundary and often cited as the border between Israel and a future Palestinian state.
The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, are expected to meet before the end of the year in Annapolis, in the US, for peace talks that have the backing of the UK government.
Abbas has demanded the Israelis halt all settlement activity and that the whole West Bank be included in a future Palestinian state. Kim Howells, the British minister for foreign and commonwealth affairs, has described settlement activity as an "obstacle to peace".
The Anglo-Saxon real estate website was today listing 67 new build residential properties in Maale Adumim and six in Maccabim. That they are new properties is particularly significant because it indicates buyers would be contributing to expansion of the settlements.
Maale Adumim forms part of the Israelis' controversial E1 plan, which would see the building of thousands of housing units as well as industrial and tourism zones to connect the settlement with Jerusalem.
The result would be to divide the West Bank, making travel between north and south more onerous and isolating east Jerusalem, according to critics. Maale Adumim has around 30,000 residents and is already one of the largest settlements in the West Bank. Israel wants to retain it in any future peace agreement.
In answer to a parliamentary question in June, Howells said: "The UK consistently makes clear its view that settlements are illegal under international law and that settlement activity is an obstacle to peace."
He added: "We are concerned by reports of Israeli construction work at El. The continuing process of establishing settlements is encircling east Jerusalem and breaking up Palestinian territorial contiguity throughout the West Bank.
"These practices fuel Palestinian anger, threaten to cut east Jerusalem off from the West Bank and undermine the prospect for a viable Palestinian state."
Gavin Gross, director of public affairs at the Zionist Federation, which organised the Brent fair, said: "While the promotion or sale of houses beyond Israel's green line is a contentious subject for some, it is not prohibited in Britain."
(read the whole article at:,,2212348,00.html

Having done my best to stir some concern over the Wembley town hall exhibition - which Brent Labour Party member Dan Judelson also took up with local councillors - I thought I'd better get along to join the protesters outside.

I'd been to see the films 'Bayit'(House) and 'The Iron Wall' that morning, which delayed my arrival but strengthened my resolve.

There was a handful of people from Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods (J-BIG), and a few Palestinian Solidarity activists. Local people passing by were interested and mostly supportive, though also surprised - startled to learn that their town hall was being put to such controversial use, delighted to hear that Jewish people were opposing it. From the exhibition itself some Israel supporters came over the road to argue or abuse the demonstrators.

One young man told us we could not be Jews, then searching hard in his imagination for terms of abuse, accused the women of being "Muslims!", and then as his parting shot, "Gypsies!" If he had not had such a dark complexion I'd have placed him as BNP. It must be hard not being eligible for the party that reflects your outlook best.

An Israeli woman told one of the Jewish women demonstrators "I hope your son gets killed". Gents in suits accused us of supporting "terrorists", and repeatedly told us there was "No such people as Palestinians", (only terrorists, you see) and "No such country as Palestine" (an attitude that seems official so far as some internet media are concerned, I notice). Obviously if there is no such country then the property companies were, as we were assured, only advertising properties "in Israel". And if there's no such place as Palestine, who needs "two states" (unless the second one will be called 'Yesha', or 'Judea and Samaria' )? Never mind Return, what they are planning is "Transfer". So if people like those meeting at SOAS are still worried about the "two states" compromise I can reassure them - that's the least thing they need worry about.

It's a pity more people could not have made it to the Brent town hall protest. It wouldn't have made much difference to the exhibition punters but you could have gained an education listening to them. OK, some people will tell me these racists and ignoramii full of hatred and contempt for another people are not authentic or typical Zionists. They are certainly not speaking for all Israelis. But if you look at what is happening on the ground, and what is being done to the Palestinians, who is to say theirs isn't the real voice? Peace? Transactions speak louder than words.


Friday, November 16, 2007

Rip-off Restaurants

LONDON has recently overtaken Tokyo and Paris to be the world's most expensive city for eating out, so I've read. I've never been to Tokyo, but the last time I saw Paris, which was a few years ago, you could still get a good meal for your money, living up to France's reputation for eating well, even at the cheaper places where I eat (though not in some grim banlieus, I must admit).

Higher prices here in London may be keeping up with big City bonuses at the expense of the ordinary person facing pay "restraint". But I expect what's happening in London goes for the rest of the country to a large extent. As the chains spread along high streets depleted of decent pubs and family-owned cafes, it seems the owners are not only making you pay more for your meal and drinks, while paying as little as they can in wages to often vulnerable migrant labour (a friend of mine remarked that if you wanted to know where the world's latest trouble spots were you only had to listen to the accents of the staff at a Tottenham Court Road pizza place).

They are getting the customers to contribute unwittingly so they can afford to pay the legal minimum wage. When we leave a tip to show appreciation of good service we may have wondered whether we were making up for low pay, and was it right that people working hard should have to look for gratuities? It helps bosses keep pay low, and means staff lose money when they are off sick or on holiday.

But it has gone further than that. Restaurant owners, and we are talking big-name firms, not some backstreet cafe, are pocketing the money paid as service charge or tips on your plastic, to boost their profit margins. A survey by the Unite trade unions among waiting staff found that a majority of restaurant employers help themselves to a share of the tips.
(Unite calls 'time' on restaurant rip-off, TGWU Record, November/December 2007)

The TGWU Record reports how union members picketed branches of Smollensky's and Pizza Express to expose what's going on and urge customers to question management about where the money is going. They collected signatures for a support petition from the public.
Union organiser Dave Turnbull said "Many customers would be horrified if they knew their service change went towards paying hard-working waiters and waitresses the minimum wage, rather than as an extra reward for good service. Tips and service charges should always be considered an addition to a decent living wage.

"As well as urging a change in the minimum wage law to stop employers taking advantage, customers can also help by asking the restaurant where the tips go".

Firms cited by union members include Pizza Express, Garfunkels, Deep Pan Pizza and Frankie & Bennies, as well as hotels. I'm not in the habit of using any of them, being loyal to the family-owned cafe, the chippies, and neighbourhood curry house, and I've not thought of tipping at Wetherspoon. But I'm happy to draw attention to yet another tale of rip-off London, and support this campaign by my union.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

New links, and old acquaintances

I'M pleased to have two more blogs to add to my listed links at the side of this page. One is Charlie Marks, whose name I'd heard before but I don't think we have met. I believe he was/is linked to the Socialist Workers Party, but known for his independent attitude. This other Charlie has contacted me to compliment me on the posting about London Underground and Overground troubles. When I looked up his name I found that he had his own blog, left-wing commentary with looks at issues I haven't tackled, and lots of links. Among them was one to Random Pottins, so I thought it was only right to reciprocate.

Then there's this message that came by e-mail the other day:

Dear friends,

I'm writing to announce my new blog, 'Greater Surbiton', which I hope you will all drop by from time to time.
It will be devoted to political commentary and analysis, with a (far from exclusive) thematic focus on reinterpreting the meaning of progressive politics and (equally far from exclusive) geographic focus on South East Europe.
I don't plan to have public comments for the time being, but any private comments or criticisms would be greatly appreciated.

Best wishes,

I first met Marko Attla Hoare in Trafalgar Square about 14 years ago, at a rally about the war in Bosnia. I'd gone up there with a couple of my friends from the WRP/Workers Press, Dot Gibson and Geoff Pilling.

When the conflict in former Yugoslavia first broke out few of us knew much, or had any idea what to do about it. Trotskyists had supported Yugoslavia when it stood up to both Western and Soviet pressure, some even going out to work projects there. But we had not really followed or understood recent developments, and knew little about the national question there. I'd keenly read books about the partisans when I was young, and also knew about Ustashe crimes and the fact that the perpetrators remained active as emigres.

It was a Yugoslav comrade called Rade who helped us learn more, and urged us to action. He was one of a group of East Europeans who'd formed around the Hungarian Trotskyist Balasz Nagy in Paris, and who joined us in forming the Workers International (to reconstruct the Fourth International). When Rade came to London I asked him whether the situation was as bad as we read about in the newspapers. He replied: "What's happening is much worse than anything you've read in your newspapers".

It had not occurred to me till then to ask what variety of Yugoslav he was. I asked where he was from. Rade was a Serb, from near Belgrade. His brother had been called up to the Yugoslav People's Army, and decided though he disagreed with the regime that as a Marxist he must go with the masses. At a place called Vukovar he discovered that overnight his fellow-soldiers had removed the red star from their caps, replacing it with the Serb nationalist white eagle. It was at Vukovar that invading Serb troops dragged patients from their hospital beds to kill them. Rade's brother narrowly persuaded the men is his own unit not to participate in such actions.

We got Rade to speak at a meeting in London's Conway Hall. It was not well attended. Maybe some on the Left knew as much they wanted to, or thought they did. But a Greek person asked whether it was not bad to see Yugoslavia breaking up. It was, agreed Radi. "But if you want to save unity you don't do it by destroying a mixed, working class city like Vukovar, and you don't bombard the national library of Sarajevo with incendiary shells!"

What Rade had to tell us about responsibility fitted what I also heard from two people at a Jewish Socialist Group meeting, one being Dr.Donald Kenrick, best-known for his activity for Gypsy rights, but also long-acquainted with Yugoslavia and its peoples; and the other Ben Cohen, a young guy from an Iraqi-Sefardi family who had been visiting relatives in Sarajevo when it first came under siege.

It was Rade who advised us to try and get help to Tuzla, a mining town where something of working class unity survived between 'Muslim', Croat and Serb. We met some Bosnian refugees from the area, and heard how miners in Tuzla had raised funds for the British miners during the great strike. We also heard that some socialists who had been mainly involved in anti-fascist activity were planning to set up something called "Red Aid for Bosnian Refugees". It was together with them that we formed Workers Aid for Bosnia. But where and how to begin?

We set off for that rally in Trafalgar Square with our publications, and a petition calling on the TUC to support aid to Bosnian workers and refugees. It never did, but the names gave us a start. A young guy signed my petition and bought a copy of the 'International Trade Union Solidarity Bulletin' , a modest little monthly I edited at the time. Shortly afterwards I saw Dot and Geoff talking to a couple, and went over to offer them the Bulletin. "I see my son has just bought one," said the woman, who had already bought a Workers Press and signed the petition.

Looking at the signatures I saw the names of Branca Magas and her partner Quintin Hoare, and that the name on my board was Attila Hoare. I'd heard about Branca and Quintin breaking with the New Left review but this was the first time we'd met them or their son. Later, although they had their own activity, they helped Workers Aid, and Marko Attila Hoare wrote an article in Workers Press.

The reason I'm telling you these mundane details is because the WRP and Workers Aid for Bosnia came under attack at this time from, among others, a sect centred on Detroit and led by one Dave North who, before he broke with both Gerry Healy and Healy's opponents in the WRP had been co-author of a series of works called Security and the Fourth International, dealing with real and increasingly unreal agents and conspiracies. Now in similar vein, but more imaginatively, North and his British followers led by one Dave Hyland uncovered a fresh conspiracy hatched by Leeds academic Cliff Slaughter of the WRP. They insisted that preserving Yugoslav state unity was a principle, whatever the weak-kneed Tito had allowed for in the constitution. Ignoring the fact that Douglas Hurd and the Tory government were denying the Bosnian people's right to defend themselves, they said Workers Aid to Bosnia was smuggling arms to Bosnia on behalf of the imperialists. Why the imperialists whose troops in UN guise controlled Bosnia's roads and airfields should depend on a bunch of amateurs with second-hand lorries was never explained.

But the North group had informed readers that "Slaughter procured Attila Hoare from his privileged educational background" to write in Workers Press. And there was me thinking I'd just bumped into the lad in Trafalgar Square by chance. Just goes to show the difference between what we mere plebs think of as common sense about how things happen, and the higher levels of thought achieved by conspiracy theorists.

I hear that nowadays the North group's Australian offshoot printer is handling the Financial Times contract. Not bad for an international outfit that once denounced Workers Aid for having a contact in Tuzla who was "a banker with interests in Bosnia". He was indeed the manager of the state-owned Bank of Tuzla, who, since the place was sandbagged and the money wasn't much use in wartime, took time off to help on convoys. I stayed in his flat in a tower block on an ordinary estate there. Obviously a high-level financial conspiracy.

We don't see much of the Hyland Light Infantry these days, but I see the venom is still available from other, perhaps more traditional sources. Neil Clark, a Morning Star contributor who I gather doesn't like Trotskyists of any description and thought poor old Milosevic was innocent, accuses those who disagree of being "anti-Yugoslav" and informs readers of his blog that:

"Attila Hoare is a ex-Workers Revolutionary Party fanatic who is as far from an unbiased observer on Balkan affairs as it is to be. The comments on him by resistor on Harry's Place say it all. "

I've stayed away from Harry's Place so far, and see no reason to look up smears from anonymous habitues. I'll leave it to others to decide from their writings which is the "fanatic" , Marko Attila Hoare or Neil Clark.

My path and that of Marko parted ways during the Kosova war, when we took different attitudes to Western intervention. I think he has strayed into some company now that I'd not want to keep. But he continues to write well, and with real knowledge, particularly about Yugoslavia and its history. *

Regarding the "ex-WRP" tag, Marko has replied that he was never in the WRP, but if he had been in the WRP/Workers Press he would have been proud to say so, because of its principled record. And whatever differences we may now have, I am proud to add a link to Marko Attila Hoare's blog to my list.

* Books by Marko Attila Hoare: "I am the author of three books, The History of Bosnia: From the Middle Ages to the Present Day (London, Saqi, 2007), Genocide and Resistance in Hitler’s Bosnia: The Partisans and the Chetniks, 1941-1943 (London, Oxford University Press, 2006) and How Bosnia Armed (London, Saqi, 2004). I am currently working on a history of modern Serbia".

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

More trouble Underground (and overground)

WHILE I'm still talking to people about the plans to close ticket offices on many London tube stations, comes news of more trouble up ahead. I had difficulty getting through the crowd at one station on a wet Sunday some months back because West Brom was playing at Wembley and supporters were sensibly parking their cars and coaches on the outskirts of London and queueing at the ticket office to continue their journey by tube.

They won't be able to do that again if London Underground Limited(LUL) proceeds with its plans to close that stations ticket office with others in the area. The official argument is that the offices are unnecessary because tube users can get Oyster season or weekly tickets. Tell that to the out of town travellers coming in on special occasions, sightseeing or shopping trips. And don't forget we're supposed to be easing congestion on the roads in London.

That station, like the biggest part of the Underground is overground. But yesterday the London TV news was making a fuss about how strange it was that Transport for London, having taken over the running of the busy North London line, had added it to tube maps. This used to be part of British Rail, and was run until now by Silverlink. Running from Richmond in the west it arcs across outer north London to Stratford in the east, cutting across the radial routes from the centre, and providing a useful connection between the areas that makes it a valued part of London's travel network. But users had been complaining of poor services. (It is incidentally one of the few parts of London's passenger transport network that shares parts of its routes with goods trains, which can be a cause of delays and problems).

What the TV news missed, with its chatty stuff about tube maps, and confused travellers, and photo opportunity for Mayor Livingstone, is the real worrying story brought out by tube workers and the RMT union.

"Management want to make huge job cuts next year. Meanwhile they plan to employ semi-trained agency staff on the ex-Silverlink stations - wearing LUL uniforms!
They are also planning to have Station Supervisors covering more than one station and to recruit train drivers off the street.
The attitude is that anyone can do an LUL operating job and they want to undermine existing safety and working arrangements".

So if those confused people found by TV interviewers have trouble reading a tube map they should have real fun asking an untrained agency staff person for help - that is if they can find one.

Already resisting privatisation, RMT members, say

"These proposals:

  • Break Safety Standards by having under trained staff and supervisors not available.
  • Break agreements with the unions .
  • Trample over years of experience of railway operations and basic common sense.

LUL’s ideas to have temp staff, agency staff, and ‘off the street’ train drivers add up to a plan to undermine job security. The same senior managers who lecture workers about customer care want to bring in a casual workforce with lower safety standards. Not long ago they tried to persuade the Government to get rid of Section 12 rules. It is no secret among LUL staff that some senior managers don’t understand what they are doing and others have become demoralised and just given up trying to do what is right.

LUL Management must think their proposed ‘Mobile Supervisors’ would be able to disapparate and magically re-appear at a different station, or maybe they will just fly from one site to another!

This crazy idea would be a serious lowering of safety standards.
When Management got rid of the guards they promised high levels of station staff would be available to deal with incidents. It is ABC to have a trained LUL Station Supervisor for many possible situations - a ‘one under’, fire, passenger incident, breakdown, serious accident, station overruns. There are endless cases where nothing less than a trained and experienced Station Supervisor will do.

Meanwhile LUL intend to close 40 ticket offices and slash the hours of the other ticket offices, just as soon as the Greater London elections are over. ( So much for democracy!)

If we accept these proposals, stations could easily end up with no visible staff and attract to gangs of youths and vandals. Already we have had violence and threats in many stations on LUL and stations like Willesden, where LUL is trying to operate with reduced staff.

It also means CSAs won’t be able to get a ticket office job or a train operator job. Train operators will be told they are dispensable as their jobs can be advertised to anyone with no LUL background.

At talks with the unions, LUL are insisting on ‘mobile supervisors’ for the Silverlink stations that come to LUL. Once this is in place, they would no doubt apply this concept across LUL.

They also want to employ security guards at the ex-Silverlink stations, saying this is while other staff are recruited – for up to 6 months or a year. But the advertisements for security guards are for permanent jobs!
Meanwhile Management want to employ temporary agency staff (with a couple of days training) wearing LUL uniforms. Other Underground staff such and members of the public wouldn’t know the difference!
LUL have also unrolled plans for temporary agency staff to help out at special events, like the Notting Hill Carnival. Or maybe even strikes?
All in all this amounts to a plan to casualise operating staff.

LUL want to recruit train operators off the street, making the ridiculous claim that existing station staff and others are not good enough, i.e. there are not enough good applicants. This would undermine the drivers’ job and pull away the promotion ladder for low paid station staff.


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Friday, November 09, 2007

Anwar Sadat: His part in my downfall

ON November 9, 1977, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat made a speech to the Egyptian parliament, announcing that he was willing "to go to the end of the earth for peace, even to the Knesset itself". Two days earlier Israeli planes had struck at two Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. PLO chairman Yasser Arafat was sitting in the Egyptian parliament as an official guest. After hearing what Sadat had to say, Chairman Arafat flew to Damascus and held emergency talks with other Palestinian leaders on what to do.

I was working for the daily News Line at the time, having been brought on largely because of my interest in the Middle East. Seeing the news come over the Reuters machine, I sensed its importance. My "Foreign" pages, 6 and 7, had already been transmitted to the printers - I was always told to have them ready by noon. It was early evening. Most of the staff had gone home or to the pub, and there was just me scanning the incoming news and editor Paul Jennings subbing copy for pages 1 and 2.

I asked Paul if I could have space for the Sadat story, he agreed so long as I kept it short, and I quickly set to work, sticking to the facts, but mentioning the bombing in Lebanon and that Arafat had flown off to hold talks on what to do.

Next morning when I arrived for work I was asked to step into Gerry Healy's office. Though officially no longer general secretary, Healy still held uncontested authority in the Workers Revolutionary Party, kept a close eye on the paper, and personally handled links that had been made with the PLO and some Arab regimes. There was a Palestinian with him now, an unusually dour character called Daoud, whom we understood was from Fateh, though he didn't have much to say.

"What are you doing letting our paper carry an attack on Comrade Abu Amar?!", demanded Healy angrily, - referring to Arafat by his nom de guerre, whether it was to impress me or Daoud.

I was puzzled, thinking in consternation that some irresponsible News Line journalist had written something without my knowledge for which I was getting the blame. But Healy was pointing to my report on the Sadat speech. In vain did I try to point out that I had criticised Sadat, not Arafat, and that the PLO chairman had clearly been alarmed by what Sadat said.
No use.
"You're a fucking Rejectionist, Pottins.
And I've got no time for Rejectionists!"

I almost laughed at this accusation. The PLO leadership had indicated that, without abandoning their historic aims, they were willing to participate in peace talks - indeed rather than be sidelined they demanded their right to represent their people - and to set up a state in any part of their homeland from which the Zionists withdrew. Asked whether armed struggle would continue if this happened, Arafat told an interviewer that different conditions would mean different means. Seeing this on TV, and hearing similar views from certain of the Palestinian left, I had thought them very sensible. The rejectionists wanted none of this, clinging stubbornly to all-out struggle "for as long as it takes", while hoping they could rely on backing from some very unreliable Arab states The danger was that the PLO would be shouldered aside and even crushed, as Arab governments pursued a deal with Israel, backed by the United States. Arafat recognised this danger in Sadat's speech.

I was ordered to write an apology to our readers. "Anyway, just because Arafat was there does not mean he approved of the speech", Healy remarked to me quietly as I we left the office. Only in the mind of a Healy or one of his imitators (though perhaps it originated in a Stalin school of journalism) could it be thought that if you said someone was in the building when another person spoke that was to be taken as meaning there was agreement between them! I never did quite get the hang of this way of thinking.

I wrote my note, saying we might have given the false impression that Arafat agreed with Sadat, and apologising to our readers for this. I didn't know if the readers would think we were stupid or that we assumed they were. That lunchtime, it being a nice sunny if somewhat chilly day, I eschewed the canteen, which was next to Healy's office, and went out for some fish and chips, which I took to the park to eat, alone with my thoughts.

When I got back to work, Jack Gale told me that Healy wanted to see us both. I wondered what it was this time - maybe he wasn't satisfied that my apology was sincere. It turned out to be something quite different, or so it seemed. Me and Jack were to go up to Birmingham to get a report on the firefighters' strike.

This was a major confrontation between a vital section of workers and the Labour government. I'd already been down to Portsmouth with a News Line photographer to cover a firefighters' demonstration. Now I'd be able to get out of the office again, make first-hand contact with these workers in struggle, and develop my political experience as well as skills as a journalist.

Next morning we set out in Jack's car in bright sunshine, which seemed auspicious, and as we had a call to make en route in High Wycombe we took a scenic route, as well as enjoying a pint and lunch in a fine old Buckinghamshire pub, for which I think Jack paid, as my
income as a News Line journalist didn't run to such things. (I wish I'd found out where that Libyan gold we were supposed to be getting went, so I could have claimed my share).

That evening we interviewed Ken Cameron, then the West Midlands regional Fire Brigades Union officer, at his little home, and met some firemen on their picket line. I stayed overnight with a comrade in Moseley so I could go out the following morning with some Birmingham friends to visit more pickets on the fire stations.

After attending a trade unionists conference in Digbeth on the Saturday I returned to London on the coach so as to be bright and early for the editorial meeting. When Healy walked in he asked me what I was doing there and told me I was meant to be in Birmingham.
So back it was, to stay on the floor of the comrade in Moseley, who had to put up with me for the rest of the strike which lasted into the new year.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I helped organise a public meeting where Ken Cameron spoke alongside the PLO representative. I got around fire stations from Redditch to Solihull, met some great characters, sat chatting with them around their braziers as well as interviewing them at home, and got a real insight into their struggle. Prime Minister James Callaghan had told FBU leaders "Gentlemen, I must destroy you!" He failed, and they nearly finished him.

At the end of the strike, though the firefighters had not won what they had hoped, they were not destroyed nor downhearted. I was invited to join firefighters in their club in Birmingham Central fire station, where they bought the drinks, and I was not just the only journalist allowed in, but the only person there who wasn't in the fire service.

My wages had often arrived late or not at all, and never been enough to keep me in fares and food, let alone enable me to find somewhere proper to stay. But as well as being hard-up and uncomfortable for a few months, which I could set aside against the importance of the strike, I had registered some odd treatment from my bosses on News Line and the WRP, which left me wondering whether they really cared about these important workers and their strike; and if not, what was the point of sending me to Birmingham? I still don't know the answers.

When the firefighters' strike ended I was told to stay where I was. I managed to find a furnished room, while covering a few news events such as a health service demo. Then I was recalled to London, and given my notice by Healy in person. I was not allowed to use the office where I'd been, but had to work apart from the others on the editorial team. My month ended, I was relieved to get out of the Healy machine, and took a factory job where it was a pleasure to be once again among "ordinary" workers, and able to have a laugh with my mates. Thus had ended my career as a revolutionary journalist.

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Pakistan clampdown hits trade unionists

COMMENT speculating whether General Pervaz Musharaf's declaration of Emergency marks a "setback" for George W.Bush's "War on Terror" may be missing the point of what is really happening in Pakistan.

"Hard on Civil Society, Soft on Extremists", was how Beena Sarwar described it, reporting from Karachi on November 5:

"Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf appears to be following a strategy of being hard on lawyers and the judiciary, and soft on Islamist extremists -- the two groups he blamed for imposing emergency rule in the country on Saturday. On Monday, police beat up lawyers and arrested scores of them gathered outside the High Court of Karachi. Another 200 lawyers were arrested at the High Court in the eastern city of Lahore. In both cities, police entered the High Court buildings to arrest lawyers. The lawyers in Lahore were also at the receiving end of a heavy baton charge".

The bomb attack on Benazir Bhutto's motorcade, killing 138 people, may come to be seen as a prelude, bringing terror to the people on their streets before the General used terror as a pretext. It remains to be seen if Musharraf's clampdown succeeds and lasts. But Washington has worked with worse dictatorships.

As ever when capitalist regimes and the military clamp down on democratic rights, Pakistan's trade unionists have been among the first people targetted. Reports reaching international union federations speak of union activists being arrested in their homes and on the streets.

The International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine & General Workers Unions (ICEM) has deplored the arrest, two days after the emergency decree, of Rana Ayub Aki Khan, leader of the affiliated WAPDA Labor Union (PWLU).

“We demand his immediate release, and the release of the others.” said ICEM General Secretary Manfred Warda. “It should not be surprising that a leader of a trade union – and one that has been outspoken in the way Pakistan has operated its public utilities – is one of the first ones rounded up and arrested.”

PWLU is strong among the 130,000 workers of the Pakistani Water and Development Authority (WAPDA). "ICEM has learned that Rana Ayub Aki Khan, along with 4 colleagues, were arrested on Monday, November 5, and are in a police jail in Gujranwala, Punjab Province. The ICEM also received notice that other leaders of WAPDA have now gone into hiding.

"The union has protested against government mismanagement and inefficiency at the public utility. It has also blamed a political patronage system with failure to deliver basic services, such as education and health. On October 29, nearly 1,000 WAPDA workers marched in Peshawar in protest of authorities ignoring the kidnapping of a co-worker at a WAPDA subsidiary, Peshawar Electricity Supply Co. Mukhtiar Khan is a driver for the utility".

The International Food and Catering Union IFU says the Pakistan Hotels, Restaurants, Clubs, Tourism, Catering and Allied Workers Federation and the National Federation of Food, Beverages and Tobacco Workers "are among active organizations defending in the civil society coalition struggling for democracy".

"In Karachi, the Pearl Continental Hotel Workers Solidarity Committee had been actively supporting Pakistan's lawyers fighting against authoritarianism and for the rule of law. Police began arresting activists nationwide on November 3 when the state of emergency was declared In Multan (southern Punjab) Mohammad Ashiq Bhutta, Information Secretary of the National Federation of Food, Beverages and Tobacco Workers was arrested at his home and 3 AM on Sunday. detained for 14 hours without charges before being released.

"On November 5; in Karachi, trade unions took the lead in organizing, together with civil society organizations, a protest at the Karachi Press Club. Police arrested the convener of the PC Hotel Workers Solidarity Committee, Liaqat Ali Sahi, and two members of the Solidarity Committee, G. Fareed Awan, Assistant General Secretary of the All-Pakistan Trade Unions’ Federation (APTUF) and Ayub Qureshi, Information Secretary of the Pakistan Trade Union Federation (PTUF).

"Police also baton charged and arrested journalists and press photographers. The journalists and photographers were released later but not the trade union leaders, who were remanded by court decision to remain in police custody for two days. The IUF is closely watching the situation of our members in Pakistan, and expresses its full solidarity with all those struggling for peace, democracy and trade union rights.

The Pakistan Labour Party LPP is also reporting arrests:
"The Programme Manager Labour Education Foundation, Khalid Malik, and President of the Working Women Helpline, Azra Shad, were arrested in Lahore along with dozens of other activists as they were attending a meeting at the offices of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan".

LPP activist Khaliq Shah reports: "Over 100 civil society activists have been arrested from a meeting of Joint Action Committee, at Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Lahore on Sunday 14.00 hrs. The meeting was called to discuss the situation after the imposition of Emergency in the country by General Pervez Mushraf. Police broke the windows of the hall to enter into the meeting venue. Disrupt the peaceful indoor meeting and asked the participants to come out.

"All the participants were bundled into the police vans and driven to the Model Town Polioce Station. Among the arrested men and women include I.A Rehman, Iqbal Hyder, Robina saigol, Azra Shad, Khalid Mehmood, Mehboob Khan, and Salman Raja advocate. The other names could not be identified yet.

"Me and Bushra Khaliq, secretary WWHL were late from the meeting. When we reached the HRCP office to attend the meeting at 12;30 by that time police cordoned off the whole building and blocked the road towards HRCP office. The police refused our entry in the meeting hall. We stayed outside the hall for half an hour to asses the situation. We contacted some friends in present in the meeting on moble and apprised them about the situation outside. More contingents of police were pouring in. it was all a threatening scenario. gun totting police men on red lighted vehicles and bikes can be seen all around the HRCP hall. The police ordered all the people waiting outside the hall to leave the place.

"Meanwhile we remained in contact with some participants on phone. They told us that police have entered in the hall, stopped the meeting and offered the women participants to leave the venue while all the men were told that they are arrested. The women participants refused to go so they were also arrested along with men. later they were all taken to police station. Police has refused to tell them the nature and period of their detention. We are trying to get the names of other friends arrested.In view of the latest crackdown on political activists, Farooq Tariq, general secretary LPP is underground to avoid arrest and police is looking for him like grey hounds. last night a police raid was also conducted at his Lahore residence".

Besides human rights activists, it is being reported that police are arresting lawyers from small towns in order to preempt the lawyers' strike announced for tomorrow.Meantime, LPP leadership including party secretary general, Farooq Tariq, has gone underground to organise resistance against the imposition of military regime.The LPP demands release of all the arrested workers and vows to struggle for the restoration of democracy and democratic rights.

The LPP Chairperson, Nisar Shah, and Secretary General Farooq Tariq, in a joint statement issued on Saturday vowed to resist the imposition of Emergency in collaboration with civil society bodies, trade unions and opposition parties.

The LPP leaders appealed to activists, trade unions and civil body organisations to join hands with resisting judges and lawyers to rid the country of military regime.They said: ‘Though the regime is likely to use Taliban-occupation of certain districts in Frontier province as a pretext to impose Emergency yet it is most likely that Emergency is imposed to pre-empt a court ruling against Musharaff's re-election. Emergency means that all basic democratic rights will be suspended while courts would have their powers curtailed’.

‘Pakistan has been in grip of political crisis and regime was facing growing mass resentment. This Emergency is a desperate attempt to cling to power,’ they added.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Bringing it home to Brent: Zionists say Theft is Property!

HOW'S this for "brown-site development"? Infill that is surrounding what's left of Palestine.

FANCY a villa in the West Bank? Looking for exciting investment opportunities in some really 'hot' real estate? Then the place to go is Brent Town Hall, in Wembley, this weekend, when Israeli property companies will be exhibiting among the canned goods and bric a brac at a trade fair organised by the Zionist Federation.

The Israeli Defence Forces are securing more properties for development, and we are assured that whatever you may have heard in the media, this process won't be affected by any international negotiations - quite the opposite. Yes, when we say Two States we mean you can settle in both of 'em!

You can rely on the Israeli Defence Forces to secure your investment, and remove any nuisance neighbours who spoil the view. Settlers enjoy separate roads and transport - you can go where you like, and do what you want, no need to worry about checkpoints; and if you've heard about Palestinian villages being short of drinking water, don't worry, it won't affect your swimming pool!

You might like to take part in exciting developments in the Negev, where the Green Patrols are encouraging Bedouin to resume nomadic life by bulldozing their homes. But if you choose the West Bank you'll have the advantage of Israeli military protection without having to worry about laws protecting any labour you employ. Thais and Filipinos are available cheap, and if you time things right the authorities will find things wrong with their papers and send them home - they can always be replaced - before you've paid their wages!

You can visit those ancient sites you've seen in Cecil B.De Mille movies, or practice gun-toting like in the Westerns, ready to take a potshot at pesky A-rabs! And junior will have great fun with his pals demolishing Hebron market stalls while pa with his gun, and the soldiers look on!

Yes, whether you want to settle or just invest, this is your chance to get involved in aggression, colonisation and ethnic cleansing! So come to Brent Town Hall this Sunday,

(Normal terms and conditions - no Arabs need apply).

NB When we say "Israeli property companies" we just mean companies based or operating in Israel. We can't guarantee provenance or that what you'll be offered is Israeli property, in the conventional sense. But what did old man Proudhon say, "Property is Theft"? Well, we say THEFT IS PROPERTY!

Here are some of the delightful locations which had properties available for purchase by visitors to an earlier property fair at Kinloss Suite, Finchley Synagogue, London, 27 October 2007:

Ma’ale Adumim – a town of 30,000+ inhabitants (in 2005) and a key part of the E1 plan to expand the suburbs of Jerusalem several kilometres into the West Bank. The planned route of Israel’s Separation Barrier would encircle the town, reaching approximately 10 km into the West Bank. The effect would be to:
· isolate Palestinian East Jerusalem from the rest of Palestinian territory;
· cut the West Bank into two, requiring lengthy detours to get from one part to another;
· both of the above would severely curtail the economic viability of a future Palestinian State, restricting access to the Jerusalem markets and to movement of goods.

Betar Illit – an orthodox settlement established in 1985 with around 25,000+ inhabitants (in 2005), east of the 1967 Green Line, to the west of Bethlehem. It is located inside the planned or constructed route of Israel’s Separation Barrier.

Har Homa – a 2002 development, built on land confiscated from Palestinians. The original plans for 3/4,000 homes resulted in the suspension of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in 1997, leading to a suspension of the plan, later resumed by Israel. (British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook raised objections to this development but look what happened to him!)

Nof Zion – a 2006 development in an Arab area of southeast Jerusalem, captured by Israel during the 1967 war and part of "an effort to erase the Arab presence" according to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions(ICAHD).

Find out what's available.
Further info. call the Zionist Federation on 0208 343 9756

DIRECTIONS: Brent Town Hall is on Forty Lane, Wembley, opposite Asda car park. Buses 83,182, 223, 245, 247, PR2.

Nearest tube is Wembley Park. Coming out of the tube on Bridge Road, turn left then go up to traffic lights, near Torch pub. Turn right and cross over if you haven't already, proceed past Asda then cross at lights to town hall.

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