Baghdad and the Beeb, Briefing and the Underground
EVER since shedding a director general, after a news source was found dead in the woods, the BBC has been toeing the line on Iraq. I was not surprised when the other day I heard a staff member complain that some of her colleagues seemed content to put out government press releases, on this and other issues.
Watching yesterday I was not sure if we were getting something from the MoD or direct from Washington. With film of children playing happily in a Baghdad park we were told that the US "surge" operation had succeeded in making the place safe for them, as though that was what it was about. The commentator added that house prices were rising again as more Iraqis felt safe to return (not a word about Iraqi refugees who have been forced to return); and there was "more good news" - Western oil companies were ready to move in and help Iraq's vital oil industry! Perhaps this was an editing error - "help themselves to..." would have been the correct expression.
For a different angle on what's happening - though to be fair a recent BBC Panorama programme did look at some of those profiting from Iraq with the help of the Bush administration - we might turn from the telly to see what some of our magazines are saying.
In the July issue of Labour Briefing, Glen Rangwala points out that that under the Status of Forces Agreement which the US is pushing on Iraq, US personnel such as those who have tortured and murdered Iraqi civilians will not be subject to Iraqi law, and the US will remain free to order any military action it considers necessary without needing direct consent from the supposedly sovereign Iraqi government. US contractors are building up to 50 military bases in Iraq now, even though Washington denies that these are permanent.
In the same issue Mike Phipps reviews Naomi Klein's Disaster Capitalism, which has much to say on Iraq, and looks at the US air strike in Somalia which the BBC reported without a word about its illegality. Mike also looks at the havoc wrought by imperialist action in Iraq, with a million dead, a million disabled, and half a million orphans. He then quotes former UN Humanitarian co-ordinator Hans von Spoeneck, who says that invasion and occupation of Iraq has been "a political, intellectual and moral disster. A withdrawal that leaves Iraq at its own fate without any war reparations, aid, opportunities for socio-political healing etc. would be another".
Mike's point is not to weaken the demand for ending the occupation, but to couple it with calls for recompense and aid to help rebuild Iraq, and support for Iraqis opposed to foreign oil companies taking the wealth that rightly belongs to a free Iraqi people. In seeking a lowest-common denominator behind calls to "bring the troops home", and reluctance to disciuss what should happen in Iraq ("it's not up to us to tell Iraqis what to do"), the dominant faction in the Stop the War coalition may have helped weaken anti-war opposition, as a wavering public is wooed by government propaganda that "our boys" are protecting and helping ordinary Iraqis.
Some trade union leaders have claimed support for Iraqi trade unions as an excuse for not opposing the British government. But we only help them get away with it if we affect disinterest and don't support trade unionists and other progressive Iraqi forces resisting both foreign occupiers and local reactionaries. "Little England" pacifism, which also appeals to certain patriots, is no substitute for international solidarity.
Mike Phipps, who is active in both Stop the War and Iraq Occupation Focus, is publicising Justice for Iraq, a one-day anti-war conference on Saturday, July 19 in London. Sponsors include Iraq Occupation Focus and Hands Off Iraqi Oil!. Hans von Spoeneck is billed to speak, as is John Hilary of War on Want, and Iraqi speakers include Sami Ramadani and Haifa Zangana. The conference is at the United Reform Church, Buck Street, Camden, NW1, and details are available at www.justiceforiraq.net
Is it just me, or is Labour Briefing getting more interesting, as it ceases to read like Labour Party members talking among themselves, and turns out to the wider picture, struggles and controversies? Linking the international and national aspects of the "war on terror", Nottingham MP Alan Simpson takes up the grim farce of Hicham Yezza's detention and threatened deportation, while the magazine's incorporation of Voice of the Unions is reflected by Steve McKenzie of the GMB writing on Remploy, Bob Crow on attempts to win seafarer's rights, Maria Exall on the CWU, and Jon Rogers reporting on shenanikens in Unison.
If all this seems like I'm sold on doing a commercial for this magazine, let me add that I recently penned a letter to them critical of an article by Keith Veness defending Ken Livingstone, in contrast to some of those he once associated with. It was too late to make the July issue, but I'm hoping the editors will consider it for inclusion in their promised Summer special edition. If not I'll probably share it with you in this blog. 'Train-spotters' if no-one else might be interested to know that Keith and I were both at one time members of the Young Socialists, supporting the paper Keep Left which Labour banned, and the Socialist Labour League. We went our separate ways, he before long joining the Labour Party, from which I'd been expelled in 1964 and never felt the need to rejoin.
Rather than argue where socialists should be, however, I think it is more important what kind of fight you wage where you are. Labour Briefing's enlivenment is linked in my mind with John McDonnell's Labour Representation Committee(LRC). Though the Hayes and Harlington MP was thwarted by MPs and union leaders in his bid to challenge Gordon Brown for the Labour leadership, he and his supporters have neither ridden off into the sunset nor buried themselves in Labour Party ward routine.
I was interested to see the June Briefing report Councillor Susan Press' election as mayor of Hebden Royd in Yorkshire under the head "LRC gains mayor!" In the current issue Susan adds her voice to that of John Nicholson, former Labour deputy leader of Manchester City Council and convenor of the Socialist Alliance, in looking forward to the Convention of the Left, which is planned to steal the limelight from this year's official Labour Party conference in Manchester.
McDonnell himself is speaking next week at a Commons rally in support of the RMT cleaners' strike, fighting for a living wage for cleaners on the London Underground. Other speakers at the rally called by the LRC include Clara Osagiede, secretary for the RMT cleaning grades, Glenroy Watson of the RMT Finsbury Park branch, RMT president John leach, Andy Reed from ASLEF, and Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union. It's at 6pm, on Tueday, July 8, in Portcullis House, near Westminster tube. I reckon a show of strength in support of the underpaid cleaners, many of them immigrant workers, is mandatory for socialists of whatever tendency. Taking a stand for justice against both London's Tory mayor and Gordon Brown's New Labour government is also part of our international obligation.