Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Old wounds, and the war of the cartoons

EVENING STANDARD, 28 October 1982.
The GLC responded by banning advertising in the Tory paper. Is the Standard still making Ken Livingstone pay for this punishment?

I'M going to vote tomorrow for who should be Mayor of London, and for assembly members, and while I have little enthusiasm for either the institution or the candidates, I am going to vote to defend what I have (my Freedom Pass! No I don't trust Boris' "guarantee"), and against the Tories and the racists.

I'm not keen on Ken, still less on his cabal of advisers (if you ask me they're more like masons than Marxists, whatever the press pretends). I don't like his preoccupation with boosting a Muslim cleric or defending the killers of Jean Charles de Menezes. But it's best to have Livingstne and Labour in, if we want to criticise from the Left and develop a working class socialist alternative.

Sad to say, the Left, even those who managed to get together for Greg Tucker's funeral the other week and will be marching together for May Day, will be all over the show when it comes to voting tomorrow. The official TUC to Morning Star left is sticking with Livingstone, for fear of something worse. Then there's Lindsey German and the Left List, only recently with Galloway in Respect; there's Alan Thornett's Socialist Resistance still in Respect but eyeing the Greens and recommending their Sian Berry as second choice; and there's a list from the Communist Party of Britain and sister parties, for old time's sake. Some people tell me it's the working class that is "confused", and what's more, they are going to provide us with leadership
That's when they have talked to each other, which they haven't even got round to doing before this election.

But I can say something about the reactionary attack on Livingstone, and where it is coming from. It started before some of the electorate voting tomorrow were born. Take the conflict over the cartoons. After Ken referred the other day to Boris' remarks about "picaninnies" (in that organ of upper-class twittery, the Spectator), Boris came back with a claim that Ken had published "antisemitic cartoons" in the paper he ran.

If that was alluding to the long-defunct Labour Herald, which was Ken Livingstone and Lambeth council leader Ted Knight's paper back in the 1980s, I used to read it, and even on occasion wrote for it, but I don't remember it carrying any antisemitic cartoons. I do flatter myself that I have a better eye for such things than the Member for Henley on Thames. It did carry a cartoon that is supposed to have upset the Board of Deputies of British Jews. It depicted Menachem Begin, then the prime minister of Israel, prancing in Nazi uniform after the massacres of Palestinians in Sabra and Chatila camps. A bit crude, perhaps, a bit offensive, maybe even unfair insofar as the precise responsibility for the massacres lay with Defence Minister Ariel Sharon who unleashed the Christian fascists ("Israel's 'Ukrainians'" as an Israeli friend of mine, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, dubbed the killers, in a historical allusion). But not half as offensive as the massacres which occasioned the cartoon.

I remember hearing a real antisemite, a National Front supporter, rejoicing at the massacres, and laughing about how the Israelis had "stood and watched", and having to resist my impulse to punch his face because I'd have lost my job. I remember the big demonstration of revulsion in Israel, and the protests and commemorations we held here. But I don't remember what the Board of Deputies said. As for antisemitism, the only people I remember blaming the Lebanon war on Jews were the Tory MP Toby Marlow and the Tory Daily Express, now fiercely anti-Muslim, but then showing devastation in Beirut with a comment blaming American Jews. I don't think the Board of Deputies noticed, being too busy avidly perusing and pursuing Labour Herald.

But talking of controversial cartoons, reminds me of the one by Jak, in the London Evening Standard, with which I've illustrated this column. It depicts a supposed poster for a horror film called "The Irish", billed as "the ultimate in psychopathic horror". It was published on 29 October, 1982, that's not long after the Labour Herald cartoon of Begin. The Standard man did not bother with insulting this or that leader, but just "the Irish" would do. Try imagining if some paper at the time of the Lebanon war, or back in the 1940s when Jewish terrorists were blowing up British soldiers and officials (and Arab buses) in Palestine, had carried something attacking "the Jews". Some people did attack Jews in Britain back then. They were Mosleyite fascists.
(but let's not bring up the Rothermere press earlier infatuation with Mosley and his Blackshirts).

After protests by the Irish in Britain Representation Group to the Greater London Council's Ethnic Minorities' Unit the GLC decided to withhold advertising from the unrepentant Evening Standard. As Ken Livingstone said:
"The clear message of the cartoon is that the Irish, as a race and as a community, are murderous, mindless thugs...I do not believe in free speech for racists...We will not put another penny into the Standard while they continue to vilify the Irish."
(quoted in 'Nothing But the Same Old Story: the roots of anti-Irish racism', 1984).

The GLC had been spending about £100,000 a year on its advertising with the Standard. That was quite a lot of money the paper lost as a result of that cartoon. I'm not saying it's the only reason they have got it in for Ken Livingstone, or why they planted a reporter to doorstep the mayor coming out of a party late one cold night, so he could be insulted; nor for them backing Boris Johnstone. But, just as with the treatment Livingstone has come to expect from the Zionists and the Board of Deputies, on which I've commented before, these things do run deep.

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Thanks to Humph


JAZZ trumpeter and broadcaster Humphrey Lyttleton died on April 25, aged 86. The tributes have been flowing, and we'll hopefully have tribute programmes to look forward to, but I want to add a personal note of thanks to a man I never met.

Back in the early 1950s, when I was growing up, the Cold War was fierce, the Left bore the grim, heavy weight of Stalinism, the Labour movement evoked images of Old Men and austerity, and the Express newspapers got away with referring to the Labour Party de rigeur as "the Socialists", purveying the impression its suburban readers were expected to see this as
perjorative, and be frightened by its "foreign" sound. Capitalism was booming, even if it owed this to the Korean war and arms production, and we were promised prosperity, even if there was not much of it around our part of the world.

Among the left-wing publications I looked at in the library, mostly old-fashioned looking and poorly-printed, I was pleasantly surprised to come across a more attractive, modern-looking magazine, I think it was called Socialist Digest. I don't think it lasted long, and I remember little of its content, except that it had an item on two minor celebrities supporting Labour. One was Jimmy Hill, the Fulham football player, head of the Professional Footballers' Association - the players' union - who went on to a long-running career on TV, familiar at first by his jawline beard, and even more so later by his outstanding chin.

The other celeb was Humph. At that time there were not that many entertainers who openly sided with the labour movement and the left, and it pleased me to see the man whose music I enjoyed appearing briefly in a Labour Party election broadcast.

My parents also noted that the Lytteltons were an aristocratic family. Humphrey was a cousin of the 10th Viscount Cobham and nephew of Tory colonial minister Oliver Lyttelton who became Lord Chandos, which added to the piquancy of his being on our side. Born at Eton, where his father was a housemaster, he also attended the school, and fagged for a young Lord Carrington.
After school, where he had already shown an interest in jazz, he was sent to the steel works at Port Talbot, with the idea that he might become an industrialist.

Instead, what he saw apparently made him a lifelong 'romantic socialist', in his own words. But then the Second World War broke out, and for the time being the jazzman and rebel was commissioned an officer in the Grenadier Guards, and saw action at Salerno.

On VE day, May 8, 1945, wheeled around the West End in a barrow by his pals, Humph played his trumpet and was fortuitously picked up by a BBC live broadcast of the celebrations. A childhood spent amid the boring pomp of country houses and the rules and fagging at public school may have helped give him his taste for jazz and distaste for pomp and formality. His aristocratic and old Etonian background may also have given him the confidence to rebel when others with careers to protect were keeping their heads down.

We may also note that to bring his jazz heroes like Sydney Bechet and Louis Armstrong over from the 'States, Humph had to oppose the dead hand of the Musicians' Union, whose policy - whether influenced by Zhdanov cultural nationalism or conservative craft unionism - was to keep out American musicians coming over here.

The second half of the 1950s saw a change in things. Suez, Hungary, and the shock which the Soviet Communist party's 20th congress delivered the Stalinist monolith, also liberated a new wave of socialist thinking and creativity. The big issue we confronted was the menace of nuclear war. The Aldermaston marches, begun independently of the official "peace" movement, and yet influencing the labour movement, brought a new generation around some old campaigners. CND was formed and local groups sprang up like mushrooms around the country. For young people coming into politics this way the culture was duffle coats, coffee (even if it was Instant), beer (albeit we had not yet a campaign for real ale) and Jazz (and this was authentic!). The traditional jazz which Humphrey Lyttelton did much to revive brought the New Orleans tradition of marching bands just right for ban-the-bomb marches. I am not sure whether Humphrey Lyttelton played on the marches, but he did take part, and do CND benefits.

While the trad jazz element sank into a rut, however, Humphrey Lyttelton moved into mainstream, expanding his range and repertoire, recording with US trumpeter Buck Clayton, and helping lead both musicians and listeners into a living, developing jazz world. His radio programme The Best of Jazz, on BBC radio 2, ran for forty years, and helped open our ears to both old and new quality sounds, while a few years ago he supplied the jazz element to a Radiohead number.

But of course what also gave us much enjoyment for many years was Humphrey Lyttleton hosting "I'm sorry I haven't a clue". This was Radio Four's "antidote to panel games", in which he not only brought out the best of his comedian panelists, with that national institution 'Mornington Crescent' over whose rules and stratagems many have pondered over the years, but delighted afficianados of the English double entendre as he kept us posted on what the fragrant Samantha was doing besides keeping the score. With his deadpan, tired and world weary style and wit, Humph was just the man to get away with it, and subvert Auntie BBC's staid image.

Though now the Establishment is paying homage to Humph, he seems to have avoided joining it
- no title or honours, so far as I'm aware. Perhaps having come from a privileged background he could not see the point of all that guff.

He did not pretend to be less than his age, quite the opposite, and maybe this was precisely why he appealed across generations. I've recently been catching up on his programme on BBC7, and appreciating them all the more, and now I wish I'd taken the chance to be in a live audience.

On Tuesday April 22 , 2008, Humph and the gang were due to appear in a recording of "I'm Sorry I haven't a Clue" at the Pavilion Theatre, Bournemouth. But Humph was ill, and so his place was taken by Bob Brydon. A pre-recorded message from Humph was played to the audience. "I'm sorry I can't be with you today as I am in hospital. I wish I'd thought of this sooner!". How typical of his style, and what a way to go!

So thank you, Humphrey Lyttelton. You served a long time, and won't be easy to replace.
And though we never met, and I only know what I heard and saw of you on radio and TV,
you gave us a good deal of pleasure.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Anti-War Action? We can't do that there here !

MAY DAY is coming, International Workers Day, and there will be marches and rallies in many parts of the world, including here in London.

In San Francisco, the longshoremen (dockers) are doing something more. They will stop work for the day specifically to oppose the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
They are calling on other workers to join them.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) said in a resolution:

'That it is time to take labor’s protest to a more powerful level of struggle by calling on unions and working people in the U. S. and internationally to mobilize for a 'No Peace No Work Holiday' May 1, 2008 for 8 hours to demand an immediate end to the war and occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan and the withdrawal of U. S. troops from the Middle East; and
That a clarion call from the ILWU be sent with an urgent appeal for unity of action to the AFL-CIO, the Change to Win Coalition and all of the international labor organizations to which we are affiliated to bring an end to this bloody war once and for all.'

In New York City, the NY Metro Area Postal Workers Union voted for a two minute 'period of silence' in support of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) . The National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) Branch 214 in San Francisco also voted to support the ILWU stoppage with a two minute period of silence. The San Francisco Labor Council issued a resolution of support for the ILWU action and stated that it 'encourages other unions to follow ILWU's call for a 'No Peace-No Work Holiday' or other labor actions on May Day, to express their opposition to the US wars and occupations in the Middle East”.

I have not heard anything on the news here about all this.
Nor about all the cities through America where councils have passed resolutions against the war. I have seen and heard about the would-be presidential candidates and primaries, though not much about their policies, though last night I heard Hilary promising she would be prepared to "obliterate Iran". But little about the opposition to war, and nothing about the West Coast longshore workers.

The BBC TV news the other evening did show another example of port workers taking action on a political issue. A Chinese ship carrying weapons bound for Zimbabwe was held up off the South African coast because the dockers at Durban said they would not unload it. We got an aerial shot of the ship.

Here is a fuller report from the online magazine Solidarity, published by socialist trades unionists from Swindon:

SA union refuses to handle arms for Zimbabwe

April 18, 2008 by solidaritymagazine

Durban - Opposition to a shipment of arms being offloaded in Durban and transported to Zimbabwe increased on Thursday when South Africa’s biggest transport workers’ union announced that its members would not unload the ship.
SA Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) general secretary Randall Howard said: “Satawu does not agree with the position of the South African government not to intervene with this shipment of weapons.
“Our members employed at Durban container terminal will not unload this cargo neither will any of our members in the truck-driving sector move this cargo by road.”
He said the ship, the An Yue Jiang, should not dock in Durban and should return to China.
“South Africa cannot be seen to be facilitating the flow of weapons into Zimbabwe at a time where there is a political dispute and a volatile situation between the Zanu-PF and the MDC.”
“The view of our members is that nobody should ask us to unload these weapons,” he said.
Satawu said it planned to ask for support from the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu)'.

The great thing in both cases, regardless of your "line" on Iraq, or Zimbabwe, is that working people are asserting themselves, and discovering their strength, by taking action, and saying they have the right to decide, and upon international political issues. This is not new. It has a long tradition. In 1920, for example, London dockers refused to load a ship called the 'Jolly George' which was going to carry arms to the Polish government to wage war on the Soviet Union. Before this too, railway workers in Lancashire decided they would not transport munitions that would help British forces prolong the war in Ireland.

It is perhaps appropriate that South African workers are setting an example now with their action. In the 1980s, rather than leave it to governments to act against South African Apartheid, many workers responded to boycott calls. The shopworkers employed by Dunnes' stores in Ireland withstood a lockout after they refused to handle South African goods. Liverpool dockers refused to unload a cargo of Namibian uranium.

One expression we heard then - though I think it was coined in the 1930s - was "workers sanctions". Yet only a few weeks ago, talking to some otherwise politically sophisticated young activists I had to explain what "workers sanctions" meant. Admittedly one of my listeners had been brought up and educated under a bureaucratic regime in eastern Europe (the German Democratic(!) Republic), where workers acting on their own initiative was probably not considered something to be encouraged. I told her about the dockers and uranium, but did not get around to the counter-example of Jaruzelski's regime making sure Thatcher's government received shipments of Polish coal during the miners' strikes.

However the British young people with her had not heard about these things. And even among some trade union activists I meet, though they may sing the Red Flag and the Internationale occasionally, and talk about solidarity, and liberation struggles in other lands, it seems to be not the done thing to mention the possibility of industrial action, and rude to even refer to the reasons we don't mention it.

There are two reasons why it is more difficult for workers in Britain today to consider taking industrial action such as they did in the past, or as the workers in Durban and San Francisco are taking. One is the use of outsourcing and casualisation to break up workforces. Two, the use of anti-union legislation introduced by the Tories, kept by Labour and adhered to by trade union leaders, which outlaws picketing a workplace that is not your own, or taking action in support of other workers, while allowing employers to sack and replace workers who go on strike. The Liverpool dockers were sacked for refusing to cross a picket line mounted by their sons employed with different conditions by another firm. Heathrow airport workers were victimised for stopping in support of Gate Gourmet catering workers - many of them members of their own families - whose work used to be done 'in house', and who were being replaced by agency staff. My union, the TGWU Unite, decided it could not risk massive fines by calling or even supporting an all-out stoppage.

The longer we put up with the loss of our rights, the more , like not exercising muscles, we lose the use of them. A new generation, increasingly having to compete for insecure jobs, or in places where unions have been in retreat, may need to be educated all over again in how to organise, and what words like "solidarity" really mean.

There is a third reason, though, why an action like that of the San Francisco longshore workers may be difficult to contemplate here in Britain right now. While we have often wondered at the seeming inability of the American workers to
build their own party, so they are stuck with Democrats and Republicans, tweedledum or tweedledummer, our own movement has produced a Labour Party which many people now find hard to distinguish from the Tories. It was a Labour government which took us into war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and though many union leaders were opposed they are nowadays stuck with defending the government and arguing against withdrawal.

I've noted before that international issues seem to be shoved to the back lately, and this year's London May Day leaflet, though it talks about "international solidarity", "human rights", and "fighting global exploitation", says not a word about the wars that are raging, those denied refuge or held without trial, or about workers fighting the big companies and privatisation. Mind you, I think if the Labour Party and some of our leaders had had their way, there would not have been any May Day demonstration this year, lest it supposedly distract us from the London elections.

I don't want to be unfair. Let us watch and listen on May Day, and see whether the example set by the striking dockers of San Francisco receives a mention - whether from the corporate media or the speakers on the platform.


Assemble 12 noon Clerkenwell Green.(nearest tube Farringdon)

March to Trafalgar Square Rally with speakrs including
Tony Benn, Jane Loftus(Communication Workers Union), Janice Godrich( Public and Commercial Servants) speakers from Remploy Campaign and Migrant Workers Organisations.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Remember the dead, Fight for the living!

NOT JUST A STATISTIC. Patrick O'Sullivan's son John and widow Mary at unveiling of memorial, Wembley stadium.

Remember the dead, fight for the living!

THAT's the slogan of International Workers' Memorial Day, which is April 28. It's a time to remember those like Patrick O'Sullivan, who went to his work as a carpenter on the Wembley stadium site one morning, 15 January, 2004 and was killed under a platform that fell 300ft. after it was hit by the load swinging from a crane.

Or Simon Jones, 24, decapitated by a crane grab in his first hour working at Shoreham docks, ten years ago.

Or the Chinese cockle pickers drowned in Morecambe Bay.

Or the many men and women who have suffered and died from mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases, before they could even see a penny of the compensation they had to fight for.

We might have thought things were changing from the days when dangerous work conditions and work-related illnesses and death were almost accepted. Certainly families, friends and campaigners are insisting their loved ones are not just statistics.

But while the media and, to their shame, some social commentators and academics, have gone on about the "nanny state", "compensation culture" , and "obsession with safety", facts assembled by the London Hazards campaign, Construction Safety Campaign and unions present a less comfortable picture.

The number of people killed at work rose 11 per cent to 241 in 2006/7, with a 28 per cent increase to 78 in construction, and a 16 per cent increase to 85 in service industries.

There has been a 10 per cent increase in work-related illness, affecting 2.2 million people.

There have been six major incidents involving cranes in the last eighteen months, with three people killed. Monitoring of cranes for safety is still left to the owners.

Asbestos deaths have increased to 4-5,000 per year, and not only is it more difficult for workers with asbestos-related illnesses to prove which former employer is liable, but the government has ruled that the non-fatal condition pleural plaques does not entitle the sufferer to compensation.

The government has cut the budget for the Health and Safety Executive(HSE), thus reducing workplace inspections, enforcement and prosecutions. Some 9 out of 10 major injuries now are not investigated.

Thus April 28 is more than ever a time to also fight for the living, for those who might be tomorrow's victims, and for the right of working people to organise, elect their own safety reps - without those chosen having to fear victimisation - and if necessary, strike over safety and conditions. It is a time to demand the government reverses its cuts in safety provisions, and
that its promises of "tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime" are applied to bosses whose negligence or cutting corners for profit can lead to the death of workers.

April 28 is a day when we should not only remember the colleagues we have lost, or seen suffering illness from work, but also think about what kind of conditions we are leaving for the next generation.

There are Workers Memorial Day events in many places. Two I know about are:

LIVERPOOL -Monday, April 28, 2008 12:00pm - 1:00pm
South Piazza Georges Dock Building
Corner Mann Island and The Strand

LONDON - gather 10.30 am. Holland Street, SE1, beside Tate Modern.
march to HSE, Southwark Street, for rally outside.
march then to City Hall, SE1 for rally with speakers.

Also in London: Monday evening, April 28, 6-8pm, meeting at
Congress House, Great Russel Street, WC1 (nearest tube Tottenham Court Rd)
with Paul Mason, author of 'Live Working or Die Fighting',
Tom Jones, from Thompson Solicitors,
and film: Mesothelioma: the human face of an asbestos epidemic.
Food and wine buffet.

Article commenting on Patrick O'Sullivan's death

Speech by Patrick's daughter at Workers Memorial Day 2004:

Report on inquest:

Simon Jones Memorial Campaign:

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Brigadier makes his report

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TODAY is the second day of Passover, which coincides this year with the same dates in the Gregorian calendar as it did 65 years ago; and it was on April 19, 1943, that the Nazi forces under the command of SS Brigadenfuhrer Jurgen Stroop began their operation to clear and destroy the Warsaw ghetto.

Already on January 18, 1943 a party of Jews being taken away for deportation had surprised their SS guards by drawing hidden pistols, shooting their way out and escaping. Unable to track down the culprits despite a full-scale raid on the ghetto, the SS were ordered by Himmler to destroy the ghetto, on February 16, 1943. But local Nazi commanders were apparently doing too well out of the ghetto factories and rackets they were running, and reluctant to give up their source of wealth. Hence Himmler turned to his trusty brigade leader. Destroying the ghetto proved no easy task. Reports had reached the ghetto Jews of what awaited them in the Nazi camps, and though many could not believe the worst, the young who decided to resists were determined not to give up their lives without inflicting a heavy cost.

There have been accounts of the Warsaw ghetto revolt by survivors, including the workers' Bund socialist Marek Edelman who was one of the commanders of the Jewish fighters. But perhaps it is interesting to see how the revolt and its suppression were reported by the Nazi Stroop.
Naturally, as the officer charged with wiping out the rebels he has to exaggerate the weapons available to the ghetto fighters, who had obtained little food let alone ammunition. Like many an oppressor before and since he has to invent outside forces -in this case "Polish bandits" -aiding the rebels against his trained and well-armed troops.
As a racist he cannot help contradicting himself, describing the Jews as born "cowards" in one breath then complaining that new armed units kept appearing with orders to fight to the death.

"When the Reichsfuehrer SS visited Warsaw in January 1943 he ordered the SS and Police Leader for the District of Warsaw to transfer to Lublin the armament factories and other enterprises of military importance which were installed within the Ghetto including their personnel and machines. The execution of this transfer order proved to be very difficult, since the managers as well as the Jews resisted in every possible way. The SS and Police Leader thereupon decided to enforce the transfer of the enterprises in a large-scale action which he intended to carry out in three days. The necessary preparations had been taken by my predecessor, who also had given the order to start the large-scale action. I myself arrived in Warsaw on 17 April 1943 and took over the command of the action on 19 April 1943, 0800 hours, the action itself having started the same day at 0600 hours.

Before the large-scale action began, the limits of the former Ghetto had been blocked by an external barricade in order to prevent the Jews from breaking out. This barricade was maintained from the start to the end of the action and was especially reinforced at night.

When we invaded the Ghetto for the first time, the Jews and the Polish bandits succeeded in repelling the participating units, including tanks and armored cars, by a well-prepared concentration of fire. When I ordered a second attack, about 0800 hours, I distributed the units, separated from each other by indicated lines, and charged them with combing out the whole of the Ghetto, each unit for a certain part. Although firing commenced again, we now succeeded in combing out the blocks according to plan. The enemy was forced to retire from the roofs and elevated bases to the basements, dug-outs, and sewers. In order to prevent their escaping into the sewers, the sewerage system was dammed up below the Ghetto and filled with water, but the Jews frustrated this plan to a great extent by blowing up the turning off valves. Late the first day we encountered rather heavy resistance, but it was quickly broken by a special raiding party. In the course of further operations we succeeded in expelling the Jews from their prepared resistance bases, sniper holes, and the like, and in occupying during the 20 and 21 April the greater part of the so-called remainder of the Ghetto to such a degree that the resistance continued within these blocks could no longer be called considerable.

The main Jewish battle group, mixed with Polish bandits, had already retired during the first and second day to the so-called Muranowski Square. There, it was reinforced by a considerable number of Polish bandits. Its plan was to hold the Ghetto by every means in order to prevent us from invading it. The Jewish and Polish standards were hoisted at the top of a concrete building as a challenge to us. These two standards, however, were captured on the second day of the action by a special raiding party. SS Untersturmfuehrer Dehmke fell in this skirmish with the bandits; he was holding in his hand a hand-grenade which was hit by the enemy and exploded, injuring him fatally. After only a few days I realized that the original plan had no prospect of success, unless the armament factories and other enterprises of military importance distributed throughout the Ghetto were dissolved. It was therefore necessary to approach these firms and to give them appropriate time for being evacuated and immediately transferred. Thus one of these firms after the other was dealt with, and we very soon deprived the Jews and bandits of their chance to take refuge time and again in these enterprises, which were under the supervision of the Armed Forces. In order to decide how much time was necessary to evacuate these enterprises thorough inspections were necessary. The conditions discovered there are indescribable. I cannot imagine a greater chaos than in the Ghetto of Warsaw. The Jews had control of everything, from the chemical substances used in manufacturing explosives to clothing and equipment for the Armed Forces. The managers knew so little of their own shops that the Jews were in a position to produce inside these shops arms of every kind, especially hand grenades, Molotov cocktails, and the like.

Moreover, the Jews had succeeded in fortifying some of these factories as centers of resistance. Such a center of resistance in n Army accommodation office had to be attacked as early as the second day of the action by an Engineer's Unit equipped with flame throwers and by artillery. The Jews were so firmly established in this shop that it proved to be impossible to induce them to leave it voluntarily; I therefore resolved to destroy this shop the next day by fire.

The number of Jews forcibly taken out of the buildings and arrested was relatively small during the first few days. It transpired that the Jews had taken to hiding in the sewers and in specially erected dug-outs. Whereas we had assumed during the first days that there were only scattered dug-outs, we learned in the course of the large-scale action that the whole Ghetto was systematically equipped with cellars, dug-outs, and passages. In every case these passages and dug-outs were connected with the sewer system. Thus, the Jews were able to maintain undisturbed subterranean traffic. They also used this sewer network for escaping subterraneously into the Aryan part of the city of Warsaw. Continuously, we received reports of attempts of Jews to escape through the sewer holes. While pretending to build airraid shelters they had been erecting dug-outs within the former Ghetto ever since the autumn of 1942. These were intended to conceal every Jew during the new evacuation action, which they had expected for quite a time, and to enable them to resist the invaders in a concerted action.

Through posters, handbills, and whisper propaganda, the communistic resistance movement actually brought it about that the Jews entered the dug-outs as soon as the new large-scale operation started. How far their precautions went can be seen from the fact that many of the dug-outs had been skilfully equipped with furnishings sufficient for entire families, washing and bathing facilities, toilets, arms and munition supplies, and food supplies sufficient for several months. There were differently equipped dug-outs for rich and for poor Jews. To discover the individual dug-outs was difficult for the units, as they had been efficiently camouflaged. In many cases, it was possible only through betrayal on the part of the Jews.

When only a few days had passed, it became apparent that the Jews no longer had any intention to resettle voluntarily, but were determined to resist evacuation with all their force and by using all the weapons at their disposal. So-called battle groups had been formed, led by Polish-Bolshevists; they were armed and paid any price asked for available arms.

During the large-scale action we succeeded in catching some Jews who had already been evacuated and resettled in Lublin or Troolinka, but had broken out from there and returned to the Ghetto, equipped with arms and ammunition. Time and again Polish bandits found refuge in the Ghetto and remained there undisturbed, since we had no forces at our disposal to comb out this maze. Whereas it had been possible during the first days to catch considerable numbers of Jews, who are cowards by nature, it became more and more difficult during the second half of the action to capture the bandits and Jews.

Over and over again new battle groups consisting of 20 to 30 or more Jewish fellows, 18 to 25 years of age, accompanied by a corresponding number of women kindled new resistance. These battle groups were under orders to put up armed resistance to the last and if necessary to escape arrest by committing suicide. One such battle group succeeded in mounting a truck by ascending from a sewer in the so-called Prosta, and in escaping with it (about 30 to 35 bandits). One bandit who had arrived with this truck exploded 2 hand grenades, which was the agreed signal for the bandits waiting in the sewer to climb out of it. The bandits and Jews-there were Polish bandits among these gangs armed with carbines, small arms, and in one case a light machine gun, mounted the truck and drove away in an unknown direction. The last member of this gang, who was on guard in the sewer and was detailed to close the lid of the sewer hole, was captured. It was he who gave the above information. The search for the truck was unfortunately without result.

During this armed resistance the women belonging to the battle groups were equipped the same as the men; some were members of the Chaluzim movement. Not infrequently, these women fired pistols with both hands. It happened time and again that these [women had pistols or hand grenades (Polish "pineapple" hand grenades) concealed in their bloomers up to the last moment to use against the men of the Waffen SS, Police, or Wehrmacht.

The resistance put up by the Jews and bandits could be broken only by relentlessly using all our force and energy by day and night. On 23 April 1918 the Reichs Fuehrer SS issued through the higher SS and Police Fuehrer East at Cracow his order to complete the combing out of the Warsaw Ghetto with the greatest' severity and relentless tenacity. I therefore decided to destroy the entire Jewish residential area by setting every block on fire, including the blocks of residential buildings near the armament works. One concern after the other was systematically evacuated and subsequently destroyed by fire. The Jews then emerged from their hiding places and dug-outs in almost every case. Not infrequently, the Jews stayed in the burning buildings until, because of the heat and the fear of being burned alive they preferred to jump down from the upper stories after having thrown mattresses and other upholstered articles into the street from the burning buildings.

With their bones broken, they still tried to crawl across the street into blocks of buildings which had not yet been set on fire or were only partly in flames. Often Jews changed their hiding places during the night, by moving into the ruins of burnt-out buildings, taking refuge there until they were found by our patrols. Their stay in the sewers also ceased to be pleasant after the first week. Frequently from the street, we could hear loud voices coming through the sewer shafts. Then the men of the Waffen SS, the Police or the Wehrmacht Engineers courageously climbed down the shafts to bring out the Jews and not infrequently they then stumbled over Jews already dead, or were shot at. It was always necessary to use smoke candles to drive out the Jews. Thus one day we opened 183 sewer entrance holes and at a fixed time lowered smoke candles into them, with the result that the bandits fled from what they believed to be gas to the center of the former Ghetto, where they could then be pulled out of the sewer holes there. A great number of Jews, who could not be counted, were exterminated by blowing up sewers and dug-outs..."

As late as May 8, 1943, Stroop confided to his diary: "Each time we unearth yet another bunker, the Jews continue to defend themselves with whatever weapons they still have..."

Not till May 16 1943 could he report: "The previous Jewish quarter of Warsaw no longer exists.."

The ghetto revolt was at the time the longest resistance battle outside Yugoslavia. Some of the ghetto fighters escaped to the "Aryan" areas and were able to participate in the Warsaw Uprising the following year.

for fuller version of Stroop report:

Two other articles on the ghetto revolt, and Marek Edelman:

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Abu Jihad: A leader struck down
IN July 1948, Israeli forces aiming to widen a corridor towards Jerusalem took the Palestinian towns of Lydda and Ramle, gaining the country's main airport in the process but also finding themselves in command of a hostile population, some of whom at Lydda attacked the occupying soldiers.

According to Yitzhak Rabin, who was in command, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion remained silent at a staff conference when they discussed what to do with these 50,000 Palestinian civilians.

"We walked outside, Ben-Gurion accompanying us. Allon repeated his question: 'What is to be done with the population?' B.G. waved his hand in a gesture which said 'Drive them out!'.

"Allon and I held a consultation. I agreed that it was essential to drive the inhabitants out. We took them on foot towards the Ben Horon Road, assuming that the legion would be obliged to look after them, thereby shouldering logistic difficulties which would burden its fighting capacity, making things easier for us.

"'Driving out' is a term with a harsh ring. Psychologically, this was one of the most difficult actions we undertook. The population of Lod did not leave willingly. There was no way of avoiding the use of force and warning shots in order to make the inhabitants march the 10 to 15 miles to the point where they met up with the legion.

"The inhabitants of Ramle watched and learned the lesson. Their leaders agreed to evacuate voluntarily, on condition that the evacuation was carried out by vehicles. Buses took them to Latrun, and from there, they were evacuated by the Legion".

Among the people who accepted this offer to leave Ramle "voluntarily" rather than wait to be forced out, was a religious Muslim family with a 13-year old boy named Khalid. They went to Gaza, and six years later young Khalid al Wazir was elected president of the Gaza students union. The Egyptian authorities which controlled the Gaza Strip arrested him. After a short spell in prison young Khalid came out to lead a secret armed group he had set up to fight the State which had usurped his homeland. In a 1955 raid they dynamited a reservoir just across the frontier from Beit Hanoun. The Israeli Army responded to such pinpricks with a massive operation in Gaza, commanded by Ariel Sharon. Many Palestinians and Egyptians were killed. Nasser cut short his discreet peace feelers towards Israel, and turned to the Soviet bloc for arms and aid which the US would not provide.

Khalid al Wazir went to Egypt, registered at the University of Alexandria, and moved into Muslim Brotherhood circles. But after meeting Yasser Arafat he left his studies and moved to the Gulf, becoming editor of Falistinuna, Our Palestine. Then in 1959, together with Arafat (Abu Amar), Farouk Khaddoumi (Abu Lutf), and Salah Khalaf (Abu Iyyad), Khalid al Wazir, given the nom de guerre Abu Jihad, was a founder of Fatah. A few years later, having watched Algeria gain its independence from the French colonialists, Abu Jihad went to Algiers to open Fatah's first office in an Arab country. With President Ben Bella's agreement, a training camp was set up for Palestinian guerrillas. (Incidentally, a few years earlier there had been a plan by some Israelis to help train Algerian guerrillas, but Israeli-French intelligence services found out and squashed this. The Israeli Right on the other hand naturally linked up with the fascist settlers' OAS, notwithstanding the colons' traditional antisemitism).

Abu Jihad's next move was to China and Vietnam, seeking practical aid as well as ideas on armed guerrilla struggle. Then on January 1, 1965, Fatah launched its first raid into Israel.
Abu Jihad moved its headquarters to Damascus, and this time he was arrested by the Syrians, as were Arafat and others. Fortunately, his wife Intissar al Wazir, 'Oum Jihad' as she became known, was a Palestinian nationalist in her own right, and managed to keep up the links with the commandos and underground cells while he was in jail.

In 1968, having shown their mettle in the historic battle of Karameh against Israeli forces,
Fatah and other groups were able to take over and revitalise the Palestine Liberation Organisation,

One thing the militants had learned was that Palestinians could not entrust their hopes and aims to wider Arab nationalism, even though they had to deal with the existing regimes as best they could. The Black September conflict in Jordan, sparked by hijackings carried out by the rival Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), brought repression down on all Palestinians, and though Abu Jihad organised support for the Palestinian guerrillas, they were forced to move their bases to Lebanon.

Then in 1976 came the civil war in Lebanon pitching the Maronite Christian Falangists and allies against the Palestinians, Lebanese Left and Arab nationalists. Syrian troops invaded Lebanon, and contrary to what might have been expected, backed the Falangists. Syrian tanks joined with them in besieging Tel al Zataar camp, whose surviving defenders were massacred. Abu Jihad is credited with organising the stand at Bhamdoun which halted the Syrian advance. He also reportedly told the Saudi rulers who were bankrolling Assad's Syrian regime at this time: "We were driven from our homeland, Then we were driven from Jordan. If we are driven out of Lebanon there will be one place left to us, the Gulf." "What do you want?" asked the alarmed Saudis. "Call off the Syrians," Abu Jihad replied.

The Syrian invasion might have been approved by US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger,
but Palestinian and left-wing Lebanese resistance, unrest among the Syrian forces (including defection of Saiqa units which were Palestinians), and an Arab League summit (possibly with Abu Jihad's warning in mind) brought the Syrian assault to a halt. The Palestinians remained a force. The next invasion when it came was by Israel itself. Abu Jihad wanted the PLO to pull out of Beirut, but as Arafat and others said no, he continued to command its defence.

The Palestinian forces were forced to leave, and Ariel Sharon unleashed the Falangists on Sabra and Shatila camps. In 1983 there was a renewed Syrian-backed attack on the PLO in Tripoli, north Lebanon. Khalid al Wazir moved with his family to Tunis, where the PLO headquarters were established. Then in 1987 the first Intifada broke out in the Occupied Territories, moving from mass civil disobedience to the rising of the youth,which won worldwide attention as they pitted slingshots and stones against soldiers with tanks. Israel's Mossad intelligence became convinced that Abu Jihad's was the guiding hand.

They also blamed him for the hijack of a bus carrying workers to the Oron nuclear plant in the Negev, which ended with three passengers and three guerrillas killed. This was used to persuade Israeli prime minister Shamir and his cabinet to authorise an operation to kill Khalid al Wazir. (As an ex-Stern group leader and Mossad man Shamir probably did not take much persuading)

Around 1.00 am on April 16, 1988 about three dozen Israeli marine commandos landed by rubber dinghies on a Tunisian beach, and boarded waiting vehicles brought for them by Mossad agents who had arrived in Tunisia earlier, using stolen Lebanese passports. They were driven to Sidi Bou Said where they took up position, while a seven-man killer unit using weapons with silencers killed two guards and a messenger, then smashed their way into Abu Jihad's villa. The Palestinian leader was writing a letter to the fighters in the Occupied Territories when, hearing a commotion, he snatched up his revolver and tried to take cover behind a door, but was soon riddled with bullets. Abu Jihad was killed in front of Intisar and their fourteen year old daughter Hanan.

(The commander of the Israeli force in this operation - for which the Israeli government did not admit responsibility - was later revealed to be Ehud Barak, who went on to head the Israeli Labour Party and become prime minister. Barak's tactics at the 2000 Camp David summit, followed by Ariel Sharon's provocative march to the Temple Mount, ushered in the Second Intifada).

The first Intifada continued for another five years. You cannot kill a nation's will for freedom by eliminating one or more commanders. But the Palestinians had lost an important leader, an organiser respected by the various factions, and a possible successor to Yasser Arafat, who was being left like a lone tree by such attacks. On January 14, 1991, another of Fatah's founders, Salah Khalef (Abu Iyad) was killed in Tunis, this time by Abu Nidal's gunmen, possibly because he opposed support for Saddam Hussein.

For Israel, the habit of assassinating leaders proved dangerously contagious. On November 4, 1995, the man who had commanded the seizure of Ramleh, and went on to succeed Shamir as Prime Minister, signing the Oslo accords and winning a Nobel Peace Prize, Yitzhak Rabin, was assassinated. His killer, a right-winger accusing Rabin of "giving our country away to the Arabs", did not need a cabinet decision, believing he had a Higher Authority.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Voice that was Silenced

IT was twenty five years ago, April 10, 1983, that Issam Sartawi was murdered in Portugal, and it is twenty years since Khalid al Wazir(Abu Jihad) was killed in his home in Tunis, on April 16, 1988.

I remember that morning in '83. I was working nights up in town, and had just come home, made myself a cup of tea and something to eat, and was ready to get some kip when the phone went. It was Steve, a member of the Jewish Socialists' Group who was studying at Cambridge. We talked about Sartawi, who had gone to Portugal to attend the Socialist International as an observer, carrying a message from the Palestine Liberation Organisation(PLO) and the people of Palestine. Shimon Peres of the Israeli Labour Party lobbied against Sartawi being accepted, and the British Labour delegates were among those who backed this block on the Palestinian.

It was less than a year after Israel's invasion of Lebanon, six months after the Sabra and Chatila massacre. Issam Sartawi's message was one of justice and peace. It was one that had to be silenced, so far as some people were concerned. But the Socialist International chairman Willi Brandt affirmed that Sartawi would attend the conference as his guest, and it looked like the PLO envoy would get to speak to the delegates that day.

Not long before this some of us had helped organise a packed meeting in London's County Hall at which Issam Sartawi shared the platform with Israeli journalist and former Knesset member Uri Avnery. A bunch of Zionist thugs from the right-wing Herut(now part of Likud) heckled Avnery, threatened members of the audience, and battled with stewards before being thrown out. Some young Arab extremists heckled Sartawi and threatened his life. He took that calmly but seriously, saying he knew he was under threat but it would not deter him. He also stated his view that the Abu Nidal group, blamed for the attempt on Israel's London ambasador which provided the pretext for the Lebanon war, but notorious also for killing Palestinian officials, had been penetrated and was being manipulated by Mossad.

Anyway, what Steve had to tell me was that he and some others had arranged a meeting in Cambridge, at which Issam Sartawi, this time we hoped fresh from a triumph at the Socialist International, would once again share a platform with Uri Avnery, Things were looking up.

I went to bed in a good mood, and slept well. When I woke in the afternoon the news was on the radio. Issam Sartawi had been gunned down that morning in the foyer of his hotel at Albufeira, as he was about to leave for the International. A waiting gunman stepped up and shot him in the back of the head. Portuguese police later arrested a man in Lisbon. They found he had travelled to Portugal via Spain, having flown into Barcelona from Athens. Before Athens he had travelled from Iraq. That fitted the statement from the Abu Nidal group claiming responsibility for the assassination.

One odd piece of information was reported by the London-based Saudi daily Sharq al Awsat .
It said the arrested man had four Israeli entry visas on the Moroccan passport he was using.

The killing of Issam Sartawi formed part of a pattern. On January 4, 1978, Said Hammammi, the PLO's representative in Britain, was shot dead in his London office. Hammammi had met with Israeli left-wingers and peace campaigners, and been one of the first people to suggest that
the Palestinians might accept a state alongside Israel as part of a peace agreement. His assassination is assumed to have been the work of the Abu Nidal faction.

On June 1, 1981, Naim Khader, PLO representative in Brussels was shot dead in the street by Abu Nidal's gunmen. Khader had been opening up links with European political parties, assisted
possibly by his contacts with a Jewish left-wing academic, Professor Marcel Liebman, a member of the Union des Progressistes Juifs de Belgique(UPJB).

The obvious explanation then was that Hammammi, Khader and Sartawi were Palestinian "moderates", murdered by extremists who opposed their attemps to reach a peaceful solution.
But there is another death to consider, which suggests the pattern had another dimension.
On May 4, 1978, Henri Curiel, Egyptian Jewish communist, was gunned down as he stepped from the lift at his apartment home on the quiet Rue Rollin, in Paris. The French security services had been keeping Curiel under surveillance but never caught his assassin. No convincing claim of responsibility was made for the killing. It could have been that South African agents were involved, because they blamed Curiel for assisting underground anti-Apartheid fighters.

My late friend Maxim Ghilan, an Israeli who was living in Paris and knew the Curiels, told me "It was probably the South Africans. But they were pointed at Curiel by the Israelis". If so, and the Mossad had a motive for removing Henri Curiel at that time, then we have another angle on Issam Sartawi's death, because at the time Curiel was killed he was having discussions with Issam Sartawi, and helping to arrange for him to meet people like Uri Avnery. The two hands - those of Abu Nidal and Mossad - may have worked seperately, but was there a co-ordinating intelligence somewhere behind? For now we can only speculate.

After Issam Sartawi was killed, Yasser Arafat insisted his work would continue, and appointed Ilan Halevy, a Jewish intellectual, to represent the PLO to the Socialist International. Khalil el Wazir(Abu Jihad) met with Maxim Ghilan after Sartawi's funeral, and promised him contacts with Israeli and Jewish peace forces would continue. The contacts with the Israelis would be the responsibility of Abu Mazen - Mahmoud Abbas.

So whoever was responsible for the assassination of Dr.Issam Sartawi , it did not halt the process at which it was aimed. But it removed a capable and daring Palestinian representative, delayed
progress, and may have helped shove developments into different channels, without people realising it at the time. Sartawi had taken his message from clandestine meetings to open conferences, aiming to win people to his ideas, but the kind of 'peace' the powers - which came to mean one super-power - brokered was a deal cooked up behind closed doors. Whatever it has delivered is neither Palestinian freedom nor peace.


Monday, April 14, 2008

Greg Tucker

GREG TUCKER, who died in St.Thomas Hospital on Saturday, April 6, aged just 54 , was a lifelong socialist and fighter for the working class, who will be sadly and sorely missed. Though he had been ill for over a year with throat cancer, he carried on participating in the Rail , Maritime and Transport(RMT) union of which he was so proud almost to the end. Tributes have come from many people who knew Greg in the fields where he was active.

Greg was on the RMT's national executive in the late 1990s, and remained secretary of Waterloo branch until stepping down a few weeks before he had to go into hospital. Here is the president of the RMT, Bob Crow:

"RMT is a close-knit family and I know that members the length and breadth of Britain will mourn the untimely loss of Greg, and our heartfelt condolences go out to his partner Joan," RMT general secretary Bob Crow said today.

"Through three decades working on the platform, as a guard and as a driver, Greg organised tirelessly for the industrial union he was fiercely loyal to, representing members at every level.

"Greg fought against privatisation, and his leadership while a member of the union's executive helped to win a decisive battle against the introduction of driver-only operation on South West Trains.

"When SWT tried to get their revenge by firing him he was exonerated at an industrial tribunal which found that he was the victim of 'a concerted manoeuvre involving several influential members of the Respondents' management'.

"Greg was a fighter to the last, and managed to attend a special branch meeting with his closest colleagues and friends at Waterloo only last Thursday.

"Greg was unable to attend the train-crew and shunters' grades' conference a week ago, but delegates expressed their deepest and most sincere thanks for his commitment and gave him an emotional standing ovation," Bob Crow said.

for some other tributes, see:

I first met Greg Tucker in the 1980s, when I was elected to Lambeth Trades Union Council of which he was lynchpin. I remember him as a principled and thoughtful member, a good left-winger who knew his own industry, but understood it in the broader political context of the whole working class.

Greg joined his partner Joan Twelves on Lambeth borough council, which from the days of 'Red ' Ted Knight defying the Thtatcher government was seldom out of the gunsights of the Tory press.
The left-wing councillors came under fire for resisting adoption of the Tory poll tax, and for opposing the Gulf war. The Sun was particularly irate, claiming council workers were not being allowed to fly the Union Jack. (The Murdoch press is always concerned for workers' rights as we know, and will do anything to raise support for "our boys" in the armed forces - anything except willingly pay taxes in the UK). When there was a probe into suspected corruption in Lambeth council the papers even tried to drag Greg Tucker's name into that - when in actual fact he was in the clear and it was him who had initiated the probe.

Still the Labour Party responded to the media hunt by suspending 13 Lambeth councillors, and Greg was one, though he kept his seat for a few more years, before being expelled from Labour, and turning to concentrate on union work. Not that this stopped Greg's activity in the political field, in opposing privatisation and looking for an alternative to Blair's New Labour. In 2001 he stood as Socialist Alliance candidate in Streatham, against Labour's Keith Hill, a former RMT political officer turned Transport Secretary, and gained a respectable 900 or so votes.

Soon after this he was summoned in to see the bosses at work, in an attempted victimisation which he successfully defeated, with the tribunal officers praising Greg's honesty in contrast to his employers.

In recent years I was sorry to part company politically with Greg Tucker and others, insofar as the International Socialist Group of which he was a prized member decided to ditch the Socialist Alliance and stake its hopes and efforts on what is now George Galloway's Respect-Renewal. But though we may have temporarily chosen different paths, no one could doubt Greg Tucker's
commitment to socialism and the working class.

And to confirm this shared opinion, here is left-wing Labour MP John McDonnell:

Greg Tucker was a superb example of selfless dedication to the causes of socialism and trade unionism. I have known Greg for nearly 30 years from the days he was a rank and file activist campaigning in support of the Labour Left on the GLC, through the ratecapping campaign and the miners strike and onto his excellent work representing the RMT. Greg was one of those comrades who was always there if you needed support no matter how difficult the issue and whatever flack we were coming under. He embodied the best of our movement, a thinking, extremely well read, and determined socialist. Because he was such an effective representative of RMT members he was an automatic target for management victimisation but he stood up courageously to everything thrown at him. Greg would not allow anything to stand in the way of serving his members and our movement. The real heroes and heroines of our movement are those that quietly without thought of reward devote their lives to our cause. Greg was one of those heroes whom I am immensely proud to have known.

Details of Greg Tucker's funeral, which will take place at 12.30 on Wednesday, 16 April at West Norwood Crematorium and Cemetery, London SE27 9JU, and a celebration of his life to be held at the Bread and Roses pub, 68 Clapham Manor Street, London SW4 6DZ, from 13:30 can be found at

Flowers are welcome at the funeral, and donations in Greg's memory can be made to the RMT Orphan Fund, c/o 39 Chalton Street, London NW1 1JD

Finally, here is Greg Tucker himself, in an extract from an article he wrote on a major issue he took up, safety on the rails:

Given the level of responsibility that drivers have, moving hundreds of passengers at high speeds, you would have hoped that the effects of these schemes would have faced critical examination by the powers that be.

There is no evidence that this every truly happened. Railtrack, at that time responsible for rail safety, and the Railway Inspectorate (rail department of the Health and Safety Executive) rubberstamped the companies' proposals. If risk assessments were made by the operating companies – and even that is doubtful – they glossed over the effects of radically altering shift patterns. ASLEF, with the majority of drivers, was too deeply complicit in the process to face up to the effects on their members of the deals they were signing. It was left to RMT members, like Sarah, and a handful of ASLEF activists, such as Laurie, to fight to expose the problems drivers faced.

(Sarah Friday was an RMT health and safety rep who was victimised, Laurie Holden was an ASLEF representative).

On which note, I will soon be writing something on International Workers Memorial Day, which comes up on April 28. With the slogan 'Remember the Dead, Fight for the Living', there will be a march in London starting 10.30 am, Maitland Street, next to the Tate Modern, and proceeding via the Health and Safety Executive to a rally at City Hall.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Don't mention the war

I'VE just been leafing through the Preliminary Agenda for this year's conference of Trades Union Councils, which is due to take place in Sheffield from June 18-20. I find it disappointing.

Trades councils, as us old hands still call them (it's the original name and easier to say) bring together members of different unions living or working in a particular area. Comprised for the most part of lay, rank-and-file delegates from workplaces or branches, they represent trade unionism in the community, whether helping fellow-workers organise or campaigning on issues like health services and education.

The trades union councils and their annual conference are also an opportunity for grass-roots activists to discuss and raise their voice on the broader picture. My local trades council in Brent filled the Tricycle theatre in Kilburn for a day-long commemoration of the Grunwick strike, and held a well-attended public meeting with John McDonnell MP when he was challenging for the leadership of the Labour Party. We have also supported the local Stop the War group, and raised the issue of Iraq and its oil, and unions, with government and in the trades councils movement.

I've attended the conferences of trades union councils two years' running, in Liverpool and Torquay, and would probably have been the delegate to last year's conference in Newcastle had it not been for another engagement. In Torquay, we joked about 'Fawlty Towers', though in fact the hospitality and tourism facilities were excellent;, and it would seem that Basil Fawlty's famous advice "Don't mention the War!" has been saved for this year.

At each of these conferences, besides discussing jobs, health and pensions, and the fight against racism in Britain, delegates debated resolutions on international issues - Colombia, Venezuela, and last year, a lengthy resolution on Palestine.

Before a motion can reach conference it must be adopted by a county association. Having failed in a previous year because we hadn't learned the proper procedure, Brent tried again this year, submitting this motion to the Greater London Association of Trades Union Councils(GLATUC):
'This conference of trades union councils expresses its solidarity with the working people of Iraq and their trade unions and other democratic associations (women's, students, etc) striving for their freedom and a better future.
From being one of the most developed Middle East countries, Iraq has been reduced by decades of sanctions, dictatorship, wars, and occupation, to poverty, chaos and ruin.
Many Iraqis, including skilled professionals, have been killed or driven into flight, to become homeless and desperate refugees.
Iraq's oil resources are vital to the country's future, and the country's present sorry plight must not be used to impose policies which deprive the Iraqi people of ownership and control of this wealth. Iraq's oil workers, organised in the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions, have striven to maintain the industry through all the difficult years, and they deserve our support when they say Iraqi oil belongs to the people of Iraq.
Furthermore, trade unions like the IFOU which have reorganised after long years of repression, but still faced laws inherited from the old regime, are vital in uniting workers regardless of ethnic or sectarian divisions, and safeguarding progress and democratic rights.
For these reasons, conference urges the TUC and its affiliated unions to strengthen links with the Iraqi trade unions, to support them in the fight against penetration by private interests as in their defence of trade union rights; and to seek ways in which besides ending the occupation, British and Iraqi trade unionists can cooperate and exchange ideas, and influence policies for better international relations, peace, and the rebuilding of Iraq.

GLATUC delegates voted for the motion, but then we had to choose which two motions to prioritise for submission to the trades councils' conference, and my Iraq motion failed by one vote against an earlier submission from Havering on comprehensive education, and one from Westminster on the importance of trades councils. To be fair, the brother from Westminster then proposed our Iraq motion be submitted to the South East Region TUC instead.

But the disappointing thing about the trades union councils conference agenda is that this year there do not appear to be any international motions coming before us. Not on Palestine, where the siege of Gaza continues and Israeli planes attacked a trade union headquarters.
Not on Colombia, where British aid is going to the military, trade unionists are murdered, and my own union has condemned the attitude of Kim Howells, Labour Foreign Office Minister.
And once again nothing on Iraq, where British troops remain and the oilworkers' union warned that the battle for Basra was an attempt to secure port facilities. Nor on Iran, where trades unionists welcome our support for their freedom struggles but could also do with assurance that the British trade union movement won't go along with its government in endorsing US war preparations.

It's almost like we've decided to touch our forelocks deferentially to the ladies and gents in the Foreign Office, and assure them cap in hand that we humble folk know our place, and will stick to parish pump affairs. As though war and peace were not a life or death, and bread and butter, question, for British trade unionists. And yet we should know we can't afford Trident and a decent health service, even the treatment of service personnel injured in Iraq has been faulted.

On the other hand whenever Iraqi trades unionists like Hassan Jouma's have spoken here they have been received enthusiastically. Not only do people feel the human issues, but it is not that difficult to make a connection between Iraqi workers' fight against privatisation and ours, sometimes involving the same companies.

I'm not saying a trades councils conference resolution would have huge effect, either in changing British policy or unleashing really powerful solidarity. We've a long way to go to restore the rights and strength that enabled railworkers and dockers to block arms going to Ireland or the anti-Soviet forces in the early 1920s. That when trades councils became Councils of Action. All the same, I fear the bureaucrats keeping the unions behind this government breathed a sigh of relief over this conference agenda for the same reason I found it disappointing.


Things are happening, even if for the time being they are outside the box of our traditional labour movement organisations and methods. We old duffers may sometimes shake our heads over the unconventional tactics of young protesters who invade boardrooms or dress up as pirates, but when it comes to raising awareness we need to catch up with them.

Talking of awareness, on Tuesday night, April 15, at London's School of Oriental and African Studies(SOAS), there's a meeting "Iraq: Behind the Corporate Carve-Up', organised by Iraq Occupation Focus with Verso the publishers, and you can hear Solomon Hughes, who has a new book out called 'War on Terror:Inc Corporate Profiteering from the Politics of Fear. Speaking with him will be Ruth Tanner, of War on Want, and Ewa Jasiewicz, who has visited Iraq both as a journalist and a contact person with the oil union. Ewa, who has worked for the TGWU Unite, is currently a researcher with Platform, dealing with oil issues.
It's 7pm in the Khalili Lecture Theatre, SOAS, which is on Thornhaugh Street. Nearest tube is Russel Square.

Some websites worth looking at:

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Sixty years after Deir Yassin

IT is 60 years since the world heard the news of the massacre at Deir Yassin, a Palestinian quarrying village just west of Jerusalem. Early on the morning of Friday, April 9, 1948, a combined force of Irgun Z'vai Leumi fighters reinforced by members of Lehi (the Stern group)
had stormed the village. By noon, they had overcome any resistance, and began going from house to house, using explosives, and firing into the homes.

According to some contemporary accounts, including that of a Red Cross officer who toured Deir Yassin, more than 250 villagers were killed, half of them women and children. Others say it was no more than 110 people, and that many of villagers had heeded warnings to flee when the attack started. But whatever the numbers, a massacre it was.

It was some weeks before the British Mandate in Palestine ended, and the State of Israel would be proclaimed. Deir Yassin had maintained peaceful relations with nearby Jewish settlements, and it was scheduled to be part of the international zone around Jerusalem under the UN partition plan. But it was on rising ground near the strategic Tel Aviv-Jerusalem convoy route, and so unbeknown to the inhabitatants it was earmarked under a Zionist plan, Operation Nachshon, to be seized and its residents driven out, even it is said to make way for a small airfield.

Further north the mainstream Haganah's Palmach combat units were battling to take the village and strongpoint of Kastel, where Abdel-Kkader el-Husseini's Palestinian force was reinforced by local volunteers. The battle went to and forth for a week. But Deir Yassin's men, true to an agreement with Givat Shaul, had driven away outside forces, and though the Irgun's commanders would claim there were Iraqi and Syrian guerrillas in the village, in fact they found only villagers resisting them, with old Mausers and muskets. The attackers only lost four men.

Although the different Zionist forces had not yet been integrated into one army, they were liaising, and the Haganah command had approved the Irgun attack on Deir Yassin, if not what followed. A Palmach unit was standing by, and the youth brigade, Gadna, were sent in later for the grisly task of collecting bodies.

Colonel Meir Pa'il, a Haganah intelligence officer, was there to see how the 'dissidents' (Irgun and Lehi) performed. He writes:
"It was noon when the battle ended and the shooting stopped. Things had become quiet, but the village had not surrendered. The IZL (Irgun) and Lehi (Stern Gang) irregulars left the places in which they had been hiding and started carrying out clean-up operations in the houses. They fired with all the arms they had, and threw explosives into the buildings. They also shot everyone they saw in the houses, including women and children – indeed the commanders made no attempt to check the disgraceful acts of slaughter. I myself and a number of inhabitants begged the commanders to give orders to their men to stop shooting, but our efforts were unsuccessful. In the meantime, some twenty-five men had been brought out of the houses: they were loaded into a freight truck and led in a ’victory parade,’ like a Roman triumph, through to Mahaneh Yehudah and Zikhron Yosef quarters [of Jerusalem]. At the end of the parade they were taken to a stone quarry between Giv’at Shaul and Deir Yasin and shot in cold blood. The fighters then put the women and children who were still alive on a truck and took them to the Mandelbaum Gate. "

The Zionist leadership had been engaged in secret talks with King Abdullah of Trans-Jordan, hoping to keep his British-officered Arab Legion out of the war, and between them carve up Palestine. Ben Gurion tried to distance his forces from the massacre, and sent an apology to the King. But meanwhile the agreement to integrate the right-wing 'dissidents' with Haganah went ahead, and Deir Yassin was not to be the last massacre.

Four days after the Deir Yassin massacre, Arabs ambushed a convoy heading for the Hadassah hospital on Mount Scopus, and massacred the medical workers in what was claimed as a reprisal. As so often happens, the innocent were paying with their lives for the guilty.

But so far as those responsible for what happened at Deir Yassin were concerned, whether or not the forces they unleashed had got out of hand, their savagery served a purpose. As Menachem Begin, the Irgun commander who went on to be prime minister of Israel, winning a Nobel Peace Prize before he invaded Lebanon, boasted of the effects of Deir Yassin:
' Arabs throughout the country, induced to believe wild tales of "Irgun butchery," were seized with limitless panic and started to flee for their lives. This mass flight soon developed into a maddened, uncontrollable stampede. The political and economic significance of this development can hardly be overestimated'.

Eldad Sheib, of Lehi, who remained an unrepentant racist, did not mind acknowledging the aim was ethnic cleansing:
"Had it not been for Deir Yasin, half a million Arabs would be living in the state of Israel [in 1948]. The state of Israel would not have existed. We must not disregard this, with full awareness of the responsibility involved. All wars are cruel. There is no way out of that. This country will either be Eretz Israel with an absolute Jewish majority and a small Arab minority, or Eretz Ishmael, and Jewish emigration will begin again if we do not expel the Arabs one way or another".

Only in the United States, it seems, has a minor historical revisionist industry sprung up, with the Zionist Organisation of America in denial that there ever was a massacre, and web sites praising the bravery of the Irgun and Sternists and denouncing Meir Pa'il and other witnesses as liars and "leftists". It would seem that while many Israelis, including some Irgun and Lehi veterans, have sought to come to terms with their past in an honest effort to achieve a better, peaceful future with their neighbours, right-wing American Zionists refuse to accept that the other has any case, lest it weaken their resolve to back continuing the ruthless conquest which was seen at Deir Yassin.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

How about this Parade of Shame?
(photo by Brian Robinson,

THIS was the road leading up to Windsor Castle yesterday,
as the guests began to arrive for a £1,000 a head dinner hosted by the Royal Family, in aid of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel.

The Duke of Edinburgh had been due to preside, but because of his illness, his place was taken by the Duke of York.

For Palestinians of course this is the 60th anniversary of the Nakba, the catastrophe which turned them into a people without a home, in a continuous process of expropriation to which the JNF has been an important part.

Israel's declaration of independence pledged it to treat all its citizens as equal, regardless of ethnicity or faith. But to get around that, it has maintained the pre-state JNF, in its Israeli incarnation Keren Kayemet le Yisrael (Everlasting Fund for Israel), a colonising instrument whose articles rule that no non-Jew has the right to reside, work, or rent property on land which the fund has acquired. Taken on top of the Law of Return, which permits Jews from anywhere in the world to immigrate, but denies Palestinians the right to come home, by allocating land to the JNF, the state has simply delegated its right to discriminate.

Enjoying the status of a charity in the UK, the JNF raises funds here and in other countries to fund developments whose design is far from charitable, such as the afforestation of land in the Judean hills concealing where Palestinian villages formerly stood.

Maybe at one time it managed to conceal its character behind romantic ideas of development and progress, 'making the desert blossom as a rose". As youngsters many of us were encouraged to work and collect money to drain swamps, and plant trees and so on. Now people ask how that image squares with bulldozers tearing up Palestinian olive trees, and planes spraying Bedouin crops to poison them.

Here's what one group, Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine, had to say, in its protest letter over the Windsor Castle feast:
"Since 1948, the JNF was the beneficiary of land that was taken from the 530 Palestinian villages and a dozen large towns that were deliberately destroyed, its inhabitants having fled in fear and even killed under order by Israel's leaders, creating 750,000 refugees.

"Contrary to the JNF’s benign image, huge tracts of Palestinian agriculture, farmland and orchards were uprooted to make way for the sterilizing impact of pine forests. This ethnic cleansing has been well documented by the new Israeli historians like Ilan Pappe, and Israeli human rights organizations, which reveal the myths of ‘making the desert bloom’ that the JNF has tried to project. This confiscation without compensation is now ongoing in the Negev, within Israel.

"The JNF, through its ‘Blueprint Negev’ plan, intends to create 25 new towns over the coming years, bringing 250,000 new Jewish-only residents to the region, according to its website. To make way for new JNF communities, ‘unrecognized’ Bedouin villages were destroyed during 2007 in military-style operations displacing hundreds of families, all citizens of Israel. The JNF is also planting forests on Bedouin land, such as the Ambassador Forest on the lands of the Elokbi Tribe north of Beersheba".

Buckinghamshire and Berkshire branch of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign called yesterday's demonstration outside the castle gates, but it was supported also by some PSC members from London and elsewhere. Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods (JBIG) serenaded those arriving with some melodious but irreverent songs about royalty and the JNF, and the Jewish Socialists' Group banner was also there.

Having earlier been sitting in a Windsor pub when police came in, with a camera, asking the guvnor if he'd seen "any unusual characters" about, I appreciated him assuring them we were just his regular customers (I'd never been in there before in my life). When the Neturei Karta with their beards and peyot(sidecurls) and distinctive black garb arrived at the castle to join the demonstrators, I hoped they looked unusual enough in that setting to give police cameramen something to do. Of course Thames Valley Police may have been nervously recalling the event five years ago when "terror comedian" Aaron Barschak, wearing a big black beard and peach-pink dress (into which he had apparently changed in the Highlander pub) got through security and gatecrashed Prince William's party in the castle to publicise his act. Good job Neturei Karta don't wear pink, you don't fool the Thames Valley finest twice.

Monday evening's protest was serious, feelings were strong, but it remained peaceful. Meanwhile, back in town, the papers were running headlines about a "Parade of Shame".
But they meant the Olympic torch being carried through London, harried by protests about Tibet. The Tibetans, it seems, want independence and object to their lands being occupied.
At least, unlike the Palestinians, they don't have to face a media denouncing them as the aggressors, or as yet anything like a Zionist Lobby mounted by overseas Chinese. Our British media and respectable British liberals always know with which oppressed people it is OK to take sides.

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