Thursday, July 31, 2008

Solidarity night in Stonebridge!

The equality of Mercy is not strained

LAST night I went to Stonebridge Park, in NW London, for a meeting called by Brent Trade Union Council in support of the cleaners employed by contractors on the London Undergound system who are fighting for better treatment, and a decent wage.

We heard from Clara Osagiede, chair of the RMT union's cleaners' section, how workers on no more than the national minimum wage were struggling to survive in London, and had to pay their own fares when travelling to work at a distant station. How workers who had been paying tax and national insurance(NI) contributions for years were suddenly told there was something wrong with their NI record when management wanted to intimidate or get rid of them. How those intimidated into working during the strike had been told to lie down on the floor of vans when being driven past the pickets, reminding her of the history of the slave ships. "This is not just about money, it's about dignity", Clara said, to applause.

A cleaner from Stonebridge Park described how cleaner had been told to clean under carriages, using various chemicals, without being advised about the hazards or provided with adequate protective clothing.

Ollie New, a train driver and member of the RMT executive, told how a cleaner who took a cloth overall cap (value 38p) from the store to protect his hair from grease and dirt was reported by someone who saw him wearing it, and sacked. "Third party sackings" -where you are told someone has complained or requested your removal, without hearing who, or even why, or being able to argue your case, - are common. Ollie pointed out that behind the bullies on the job stood big companies making millions in profit around the world, and the government which had pushed privatisation. His union intended exposing the fat cats who were doing well from exploitation.

Several people spoke from the floor, including cleaners, a Metronet engineer who supported the cleaners' fight, the Unison branch secretary from Park Royal hospital, and a TGWU Unite member who handed over a cheque from a collection among his branch colleagues.

One invited speaker failed to make an appearance. Labour MP Dawn Butler whose Brent South constituency covers Stonebridge had said she might pop in to the meeting, but it seemed she was going walkabout with the police in the area that evening, and could not spare time for the cleaners. In fact, one of the meeting's organisers reported that when he had phoned the MPs office that day her staff seemed much concerned when he referred to firms using workers' immigration status as a threat to hold over them. They asked him more about the employment of "illegals", and he got the impression they were not so much angry over exploitation as anxious that the MP should not be seen in a meeting with such people.

If that is true, perhaps the GMB union, for which Dawn Butler worked before she became an MP, ought to ask some questions of its former organiser. The GMB, as well as TGWU Unite, has been organising cleaners in some of the big City offices, with similar problems to those on the Underground. It is also sponsoring MsButler as a Labour MP, subsidising her office as well as funding the Labour Party. If she does not want to be seen in the wrong kind of company at a cleaners' meeting, maybe the union should spare her any further embarassment by stopping its cheques.

About 40 people attended the Stonebridge meeting, including several young people whose sense of justice has been fired by the cleaners' fight.
We heard that a woman cleaner and union rep from Queens Park was that night facing a disciplinary hearing at Stonebridge depot, and that management would not allow a union officer in with her. Most of the meeting trouped up to the depot, and as a vehice was leaving we rushed in through the gates.

Outside the hut where the disciplinary was due to be held we met Mercy, the cleaner, and took up a chant "Justice for Mercy! Justice for the cleaners!" , and so forth. Then we waited nearby while the hearing was held. The manager conducting it decided he could after all allow a union representative in with Mercy; and after half an hour or so. he decided that the hearing should be adjourned. Indefinitely, it seemed.
Ollie New said we had achieved something, the union man was well pleased, and Mercy was exuberant. "I never knew I had so many friends behind me! ", she said, hugging the nearest supporters.

Let's hope word spreads. It could give some very downtrodden and exploited workers encouragement to stand up for themselves, and give over-cocky management pause for thought. It also shows that despite years of being told we must put up with privatisation and anti-union laws, and media propaganda attacking trade unionists and immigrants, solidarity is alive, and people are waking up to new ways of showing it.
Let's have more!

For more info and news from the RMT:
For more info about Brent Trades Union Council

Labels: ,

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Not Labour in Vain

LABOUR suffered a serious defeat in the Glasgow East by-election on July 24. Although the Scottish National Party only won by 365 votes over Labour's candidate, the swing from Labour was 22 per cent - twice that which brought them down to humiliating fifth place in Henley on Thames on June 27.

Glasgow East is no genteel middle class Henley. Comprising the former Baillieston seat and parts of Shettleston, it is one of the most deprived areas in the country. The average life expectancy for males in this constituency is 68, five years less than in the rest of Scotland. In Shettleston it is 63.

These had always been Labour seats except in 1945 when Shettleston returned the left-wing ILP. The most Celtic bit is the football team. But the days have long gone when Labourites could sneer at the Nationalists as "Tartan Tories". On welfare and war, and other issues of concern to working people, New Labour's performance in government compares poorly with that of Scotland's parliament and has lost it the people's loyalty. The saltire flag is just an extra.

It is wrong to claim the Glasgow East result as a victory for David Cameron, as Tory commentators are doing. The Tory vote in this by-election was only 1,639, or 6.3 per cent of the electorate. Hardly a Tory comeback in Scotland, or sign that people are turning to Conservative values. When Baroness Thatcher said recently she would like a state funeral, the sentiment voiced by many Scots (and not them alone) was that they would pay for it if we could bury her now, without waiting for her overdue departure from natural causes.

But it is true that taking the country as a whole, New Labour's success in alienating and demoralising Labour voters, coupled with the effect of credit crunch and economic decline on middle class trust in Brown, could be leading us to a Tory victory. Labour MPs intriguing behind the scenes, along with media chatter about images and personality, are hardly going to revive interest in politics, let alone confidence in Labour. Will Gordon be replaced by Jack Straw, or the even less charismatic David Milliband, finding time from his Foreign Office stoogery to sing the praise of Maggie Thatcher? That should do Labour a lot of good. And the worrying thing is that this looming defeat could be a lasting setback for the whole Labour movement.

Trade unionists know that the Tories and employers will come back with a vengeance, and it will be no use asking them to get rid of the laws which Labour has lovingly preserved for them. The latest New Labour idea of making unemployed and even disabled people work for benefits (and what that will do to the jobs of those working for wages) is one the Tories can't wait to endorse, and claim as their own. And with the gap between rich and poor resembling Victorian or even Third World extremes, the media is encouraging the public to cheer this attack on those lower down the ladder rather than look askance at the obscenely rich above.

As for Labour's traditional voters, feeling the defeat, they will nod when you tell them that what was really needed were socialist policies, then say "but what can you do - the Tories have won". It's not just back to square one, but way behind it.

What's needed is to raise the issues, and to raise them now. What might at least revive interest in politics and conviction that it matters to us would be a new challenge to Gordon Brown that came from the Left, and was about policies. Out of sight? Well, away in the undergrowth, something stirs.

A Facebook group backing the battle of Fremantle care workers in the London Borough of Barnet to defend their pay and conditions, is not the biggest media arena, even on the Left, but you have to start small and wherever you are, and today those of us who subscribe to that group received this message from Marsha-Jane Thompson, a Labour Party member:

John McDonnell

Hello all,
Members of this group will be aware how John supports the Fremantle workers - he has invited them to parliament spoken at rallies on our behalf and laid an Early Day motion in parliament.

The only way to stop a Tory government in a few years time is for us to have a new leader of the Labour Party one that supports workers and our trade unions Comrades,

I am urging you to sign a letter calling for John McDonnell to stand when Gordon Brown stands down and for MPs to nominate him to allow a democratic debate.

Please join the group here:

Turning to the new group formed to support this call, we found Owen Jones, who worked for John McDonnell's previous campaign and set up a youth wing, inviting support for this letter:

As a range of Labour party members, supporters, councillors, NEC representatives, trade unionists, activists, community workers and campaigners, we are concerned that the Labour party currently faces a crisis from which it may not recover for a generation or more.

We believe that the current disastrous situation has been caused by the continuation of unpopular New Labour policies that have alienated millions of our supporters right across the country.

When Gordon Brown became leader of the Labour party, we were denied a democratic debate on the future direction of the party. We believe that, if a leadership contest is to take place, there must be a range of candidates representing all wings of the party. So far all the potential successors mentioned have supported the very policies that have landed the party in its current predicament – such as the Iraq war, privatisation of our public services, pay cuts for public sector workers, attacks on civil liberties, and failures to tackle a growing housing crisis and increasing inequality. We believe the current crisis is about policies, not personalities.

We desperately need a candidate to stand who will promote policies supported by millions of our supporters across the country – such as fair pay for public sector workers, public ownership of our services, a progressive tax system, an emergency council housing programme and an independent foreign policy. We need someone who is not compromised by voting for the very policies that have alienated our supporters.

John McDonnell is the only potential candidate with a consistent record, who has opposed all of New Labour's unpopular policies, who has a coherent alternative policy vision, and who has widespread support across the labour movement. We therefore urge John McDonnell to stand when there is a vacancy and for MPs to nominate him in order for party members and trade unionists to have a genuine debate and choice about the future of our party.


I hope John McDonnell does take up this sword, and that those remaining Labour MPs claiming to be on the Left get behind him this time. It would also be a chance for our unions to justify the amount of money they still keep putting into Labour's coffers, with little respect to show for it.

This campaign might not win back the Labour Party from the discredited crew at the top, or restore its chances of defeating the Tories. But it could rescue something from the wreckage. More people will regain hope that, as John McDonnell said in his previous campaign "Another world is possible".

I don't think I'm "spreading illusions in Labour reformism". I think its day has gone, and a socialist alternative has to be built both inside and outside the Labour Party.
But after the way they wrecked the Socialist Alliance and the debacle of 'Respect', some of those claiming to be that alternative have got some thinking and a bit of humility to do.

At Glasgow East, two parties which between them took enough votes to beat the Lib Dems, and might conceivably have overtaken the Tories too if they had been united, were the Scottish Socialist Party, on which such hopes were placed,(it got 2.1 per cent) and Tommy Sheridan's breakaway Solidarity(2 per cent)- which split with the encouragement of the Socialist Party in England,the SWP, and the SWP's erstwhile hero George Galloway. The problem for the Left is not how do you destroy "illusions in Labour", but how do you get people to take you seriously when you say you have something better?

Labels: ,

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The murderer our leaders encouraged

AFTER 13 years, Dr.Radovan Karadzic has finally been captured to face trial at the Hague as a war criminal. It was Karadzic and his military partner General Mladic (still at large) who stand accused for the massacre of up to 8,000 Bosnian men and boys at Srebrenica, probably the worst atrocity since World War II in Europe.

There was more than a suspicion over the past decade that Western forces in former Yugoslavia were reluctant to pursue Karadzic, whether because he had protection or because powerful people had an interest in not seeing him in the dock, because he knew too much.
Milosevic died while at the Hague, Arkan the notorious criminal warlord was gunned down in Belgrade when he threatened to go there.

We must hope that Karadzic's trial helps people remember how his "Bosnian Serb republic" was carved out, and educates a younger generation. There is no shortage of witnesses who can testify.
Here is HM, a student from Hranca, a village near Bratunac, tht was surrounded by Serb territorials on May 3, 1992

"Troop carriers were placed on the road connecting the village of Konkevic Polje with Bratunac.Soon after the nearby houses were fired upon, and the locals driven from their homes. I escaped into the woods. While I was hiding, my father and Hamid Ali, a hodza (Muslim mullah, or priest) stayed in the house.Later when I met my father, he told me that the Serbs had found them. The Serb territorials drenched the house with petrol in order to burn it. When my father gave them his cheque book and 50,000 dinars, as well as his pistol, they gave up the idea. The Serbs drove my father and the hadji out and opened fire on them.
Then they began to rob and burn our village. My neighbour who was hidden in the nearby woods, and in a brook, watched all of it."

HM then gives names of forty people whose homes were burned. He tells how some local people, including a five year old child were killed. Then on May 9 the Chetniks came back and surrounded the village again, and burned the remaining 55 houses. "The ethnic cleansing operation on my village was completed on 11 May 1992".

Though HM and his friends hid out in the woods they were found, and taken captive to Bratunac.

"When we arrived, some Chetniks who called themselves the White Eagles ordered us to form two rows and to sing Chetnik songs. While we were lining up they beat us with whips.

"Before they drove us to the school in Bratunac four men were taken aside (he gives their names); It is not known what happened to them".

At Bratunac, having been deprived of their watches, ID papers and whatever money they had, HM and his friends were beaten several times. They witnessed men being taken outside and killed. The school was visited by men in masks who read out lists of names. Those whose names were called were taken away to be tortured and killed. This continued till May 13.

HM also witnessed something else:
"It was a dreadful sight when the Chetniks brought Milutin Vuksic, a Serb, into the room. He was arrested for trying to hide his Muslim neighbours. They took him to the locker room and we could hear him scream, since it all took place near the school. He was tortured and then we couldn't hear him any more."

That day HM was among prisoners taken to Pale, the Bosnian Chetnik 'capital', where Radovan Karadzic had his headquarters. There were more beatings, but HM was among the lucky ones, handed over in a prisoner exchange on May 17, thus surviving to tell.

Another survivor was GB, just 15 when the Chetniks came to her village on May 9, 1992. They took her and her father and other family members and neighbours away, beating and killing some of the males. GB and her cousin H were separated from the rest and taken to the woods.

H was raped first. "The man who was raping her had a knife in his hand and was threatening her with it. The other three masked Chetniks took me near H. One of them shouted at me:'Take off your clothes," cursing my mother and Alia Izetbegovic. to me.

"When I refused the other one drew a knife and threatened to kill me. ..They raped me while holding a knife to my throat, saying "If you utter a sound you will be killed'.
After the rape they took me back to the road.
After all this I was taken to Kladanj together with the other girls, and then to Tuzla where we were examined by the gynaecologist at the Public Health Centre, Dr.Musatafa Mujbegovic and my statement has been confirmed".

These are two extracts from Rivers of Blood, a collection of eye-witness accounts published by the Bosnia Solidarity Campaign in 2001, taken from reports originally compiled by the State Commission for the Collection of Evidence on War Crimes, based in Tuzla.

Rape, torture and atrocities were not incidental to Karadzic's Bosnian war. They were part of the policy of ethnic cleansing and assertion of racial supremacy. As Kemal Pervanic*, himself a survivor of the Omarska concentration camp, explains in the foreword to Rivers of Blood:
"According to this plan it is not enough to conquer and rule. Their prime task is to remove, displace or eliminate the local population through a reign of terror that ensures survivors never want to return".

Those here who tried to excuse or deny such policies, and rubbish reports of atrocities, didn't want us to listen to eye-witnesses and survivors. Like the neo-Nazi Holocaust revisionists who want to play games with statistics, the smart crowd at Living Marxism only wanted to discuss camera angles and whether some emaciated looking prisoner was really behind the barbed-wire. Affecting tight-lipped smiles at our credulity for images, they seemed to want us to accept that Omarska was some kind of holiday camp. But as Ed Vulliamy reminds us, the reality was what the cameras were not invited to see.

"Scenes of routine sadism such as that described by survivor Halid Mujkanovic, concerning a prisoner forced to perform fellatio on a fellow inmate, then ordered to bite off his testicles while a live pigeon was stuffed down his throat to stifle his screams as he died. The victim was Fikret Harambasic and the man was forced to castrate him in order to save the lives of his roommates, threatened with execution if there were no 'volunteers'. The crowd of guards who oversaw this entertainment 'looked as though they were attending a sports match, supporting a team', said Mujkanovic".

The Edge of Madness, by Ed Vulliamy, Guardian g2, 23.07.08.

It was the poet and psychiatrist Dr.Karadzic who unleashed such scenes from hell, but it was the great power statesmen with their plans for partition who encouraged and abetted the warlords, Croat as well as Serb, who set out to carve up Bosnia.

Although Bosnia had existed before as a country, it was the partisan revolution during World War II which relaunched a republic of Bosnia and Hercegovina, after it had first been broken up by the pre-war Yugoslav(Serb) monarchy and then largely annexed by the wartime Croat Ustashe state. Tito's policy was to recreat a buffer between aggressive Serb and Croat nationalisms, but also to let it develop as a mixed population symbolising the aims of "unity and brotherhood". Not only were communities interspersed, but in cities like Sarajevo and Tuzla at least a quarter of the people had intermarried, and were of mixed descent.

"They want to partition Bosnia? What am I supposed to do, divorce my wife? Partition our children?", said Adzic, a Muslim who had not been in a mosque since he was a kid, married to a Serb. "I never thought I would see such things in my country".

Bosnians told me they had wanted to be part of the federal Yugoslavia -"Where I could travel from Istria to Macedonia without needing a passport" - but "Not to be part of Greater Serbia". Karadzic's secession, with its inevitable ethnic cleansing of non-Serbs, was encouraged by Serb leaders like Milosevic and the fascist Seselj, and assisted by the Yugoslav People's Army. But not by them alone.

As Ed Vuliamy reminds us again:
"The governments of Britain and France especially - as well as the United Nations leadership - saw in Karadzic not the war criminal they call him today, but a fellow politician with whom to do business. Karadzic dealt - directly or indirectly - with Lord Peter Carrington, Malcolm Rifkind, Lord David Owen, Cyrus Vance, Douglas Hurd and Dame Pauline Neville-Jones as an equal deserving full diplomatic protocol. A recent book by the lawyer Carole Hodge finds Karadzic, in return, praising Britain's "refined diplomacy". To the private hilarity of the Serbs, western diplomats accepted Karadzic's endless, empty guarantees and his posturing and fleeting "ceasefires". They agreed to turn back aid to the desperate "safe areas" declared but betrayed by the UN. They connived in maps and "peace plans" that gave Karadzic everything he had won by violence and tolerated the siege of Sarajevo, which he is accused of personally overseeing".

It was a Serb, Rade, a Trotskyist, who did most to open my eyes to what was happening in ex-Yugoslavia, and who encouraged some of us to form Workers Aid for Bosnia. I remember the way he answered doubters at a meeting in Conway Hall, though sadly few of those who kidded themselves that Milosevic was defending socialism risked exposing their illusions to such voices of reality, Then when we wanted to invite Rade to speak in London a second time he was barred from entering the country because of government sanctions against Serbia - at the same time as Karadzic was enjoying lavish hospitality in Whitehall.

Amid all the bitterness and suffering they endured at the hands of Serb nationalists and murderers, Bosnians repeatedly referred to them as "Chetniks" - the wartime term for armed Royalist bands - rather than merely saying "the Serbs". "All Chetniks are Serbs, but not all Serbs are Chetniks", they kept reminding themselves. The pursuit and arrest of war criminals like Karadzic, whatever the circumstances (such as Serbia's wish to be accepted by the EU), questions about the trial, or truisms about the hypocrisy of the West, is one in the eye for the nationalists, and one up for those who want reconciliation - and not least all those decent Serbs.

Just remember next time you hear some ignoramus like Terry Wogan wingeing because people in former Yugoslav republics are voting for each other's Eurovision song entries, it might be an indication that for all the "age-old hatreds" our media kept evoking, people have much in common, and despite the real crimes and barbarities conjured into being by a perverted intellectual like Dr.Karadzic, the decent, civilised people can be,when given the chance, a majority.

* Kemal Pervanic has written about his experiences at Omarska in
The Killing Days: my journey through the Bosnian war,
available from Amazon.


Friday, July 18, 2008

Sisters happy with High Court decision

In this earlier famous case they obtained the freedom of a woman who had killed a violent, abusive husband.
Yesterday they were just aiming to secure their funding.

NOW for the good news about Southall. After two days in the High Court, with supporters demonstrating outside, it looks like Southall Black Sisters have won their battle to keep funding from Ealing council which enables them to continue their vital work. That's good news for women, good news for minorities, good news for people in Southall and elsewhere, and good news for everyone in the 'voluntary sector' who is concerned lest services are taken away from communities and turned over to business, or run cheaply to suit government.

If that sounds too good to be true, I'm keeping my fingers crossed. I could not make it down the High Court myself, but here's the Ealing Times report:

Sisters celebrate as council caves

SUPPORTERS of a domestic violence group are celebrating a dramatic victory in a High Court battle over a decision that threatened its future.

Ealing Council has conceded defeat in a landmark hearing brought by a number of women helped by Southall Black Sisters (SBS), which supports victims from ethnic minority groups.

Speaking outside the courtroom, Pragna Patel, the organisation's chairman, said: "We feel vindicated because we feel the council has accepted that they made numerous errors. They've accepted that they got it wrong and are prepared to start again. We feel this could have all been avoided and it's a terrible waste of tax payers money."

Lord Justice Moses left the court room to a chorus of applause from the public gallery as the volunteers and paid staff who make up SBS joined the women they work so hard to help for a celebration that will be heard across the country.

Lord Justice Moses, who oversaw hearing, is due to issue a ruling which future judges will take into account when hearing similar cases. His judgement could determine the future of all organisations who, like SBS, provide a specialist service to people from certain groups within society.

The council currently gives money to a number of charities but wanted to change the way it funds services for victims of domestic violence, so groups would have to bid for a single lump sum to provide support for everyone in the borough. But SBS says the decision would have left charities which provide a tailored service to certain residents, but not others, unable to win any funding.

The case was brought to court on the grounds the council did not pay attention to the needs of the people affected by the policy at the time it was made. Ms Patel said: "Furthering race equality doesn't mean you don't here the voices of the most vulnerable and the most misunderstood.

"This is not just an important thing for Southall Black Sisters but for all the other ethnic minority groups."

But for now it is the women SBS helps who will be most affected.

The case was brought on behalf of Ramandeep Kaur, 25, who is currently supported by the group, as well as another woman in a similar position. She was put in touch with its counselors after suffering at the hands of her husband who beat her and threw her out of the house.

She said: "I had no where to go and I just felt like I wanted to commit suicide. I couldn't speak English and I couldn't tell anyone about my problems but I was able to go to Southall Black Sisters.

"Before I met them I wanted to commit suicide, but they gave me a sense of living."

She said women like herself rely on grass roots organisations that they can trust to come out and get the help they so badly need.: "If it wasn't for them where would we have gone. We can explain it to them properly but we couldn't explain it to a normal group in the same way.

"We are afraid of racism in other services, and whether we would be listened to. I have lost my parents but they are my parents now."

Councillors could still push ahead with similar proposals in the future but this will be a massive blow and any attempt to revisit the project will require a careful look at the impact on ethnic minority groups.

Councillor Jason Stacey, leader of the council, said: "We defended this case because we believe that all women in the borough, regardless of their ethnic background, should have equal access to domestic violence support services.

"This principle remains but the process has highlighted areas of the law that are unclear and open to many different interpretations."

He said the council agreed to withdraw from the case on the basis that the judge's ruling would provide guidance on grant funding.

5:23pm today

By Jack Royston

Labels: ,

Thursday, July 17, 2008

BBC news discovers hidden army of "illegals"

THE BBC news lead-in was alarming. They promised to reveal a criminal network involving immigrants. One thought we might hear frightening news of gangs robbing elderly people on the street or terrorising us in our homes.

As though the daily reports of knife crime weren't worrying enough.

So what did we see?

It seems impoverished men from the rural Punjab are coming to Southall in west London. Just as many others did before them. Only because immigration controls have been been enforced and tightened ever since the 1961 Commonwealth Immigration Act, those coming now are "illegals", smuggled into the country.

Telling us they are known as "Fauji" -soldiers - the TV news scrolled through names of streets around Southall where some of them were said to be living - as though everybody on those streets is part of this hidden army.

Desperate for any kind of work, these men take anything they can get, and are easily exploited by employers who don't care about skills, safety, or legality, so long as they are cheap. We saw a young man waiting on the pavement and being picked up in a van.

So where were the criminals?

The reporters spoke to a man who was apparently doing well out of supplying fake passports and papers. We heard about someone's documents showing them as a resident of Portugal. As for the employers, the BBC confronted a chip shop owner in Southall who employed someone without checking they were 'legal'. Wow. They are really going after the Mr.Big.

As for the 'soldiers', what crime were they guilty of? Mugging pensioners? Breaking into houses or cars? Obtaining money by false pretenses from our generous social security? If you believe the Sun-fed gobshites I sometimes hear people entering Britain are given generous hand outs and houses so that it is hard to see why they would bother going to work, or be dossing down dozen to a room and eating out of a communal pot as the BBC film showed.

But they are illegal being here, and as the reporter told us doing a job that someone else might do. Yeah, right. And if that guy had really been from Portugal, a legal immigrant, he would not be doing a job someone else wanted? Or from Portadown. Or Portsmouth? Assuming that people are really that keen to work in the corner chippies, or as labourers.

The late Sid Bidwell, who used to be Labour MP for Southall, used to recall how as a young man he heard of big punch-ups in Southall high street between Londoners and the Welsh lads whom they accused of coming to steal jobs.

When I came to London in the 1960s there were bunches of men on the pavement in Cricklewood and Camden Town, early in the morning, waiting to be picked up and taken off in the back of a lorry for labouring. If they were lucky they would be dumped down again in the evening in time for a pint or two. Of course, they were legal - Irish immigrants. Whether they had national insurance cards is another matter. They were paid in the pub and if they stood the ganger a drink they might be OK for work next week.

A story I cannot verify is of the driver sent out to pick up a bunch of stout fellows who always stood outside Camden Town tube. They insisted on a 'sub' before they would get in the lorry, so the driver had to go back to the yard and fetch some cash. With a tenner apiece they all got into the back of the lorry. And when it stopped at the lights they all jumped out and ran off.

It was around this time that, working as a labourer (on the cards) on Good-In at a big London factory I naively asked someone why they kept calling me "Mick" or "Pat" when my name was Charlie. "Well", explained the little cockney delivery driver, "you're not black, and you're working as a labourer, so we thought you must be Irish".

Anyway, of the turbaned Sikhs who came from the Punjab in those days, some got work on the buses (there was a famous case in Wolverhampton where they fought for the right to wear the turban. "It was good enough for the Army, it ought to be good enough for the corporation!" said men like my Dad, who had served with them.) Some went into the building trades. And in Southall, they got jobs in factories, and being legal, and on the cards, they proved good trade unionists. I remember the Woolfs rubber factory strike, involving mostly Asian workers (though there were also the two Irish lads whose Sikh landlord let them off rent while they they were on strike because it was a community thing)..

With immigration restrictions and the spread of casualisation, outsourcing and agency work, and phoney self-employment - not just in building, agriculture and catering but warehouses and other jobs, - unscrupulous employers have it made. They can look the other way and pretend they don't know where staff were recruited or if their papers are in order, pretend that safety and protective clothing is not their responsibility, yet hold the threat of exposure, police raids and deportation to keep the workforce subdued.

The Chinese cockle pickers drowned in Morecambe bay were one dramatic case. That, and union pressure brought proposals to regulate gangmasters. But the bigger problem remains. There were promises to limit agency labour on the London Olympic sites but I'm told most if not all at present are agency staff. (And the government has resisted calls to bring agency workers' rights up nearer to those enjoyed by permanent staff). Some of the contractors responsible for cleaning the London Underground are using agency workers, and in some cases people hired day-by-day. During the recent RMT cleaners strike it was reported that some workers feared to join the union or strike because they were "illegals". I don't know whether the men told to lie down on the floor of vans taking them in past pickets, or to cross live rails coming in to work, fell into this category.

Around the country you can hear horrific stories of exploitation and deplorable conditions, even of legal migrants, like the Polish slaughtermen found kipping in an old caravan at the back of a west country abattoir, and paying a rip-off rent for that privilege.

But the media, including the BBC, keeps looking at the problem the wrong way round, and presenting the victims of exploitation as thought they were the criminals. On the same day as the Beeb led with the Southall "criminals" story a national newspaper's front-page warned of "riots" coming over immigrants in country areas. Could these be the same areas where farmers were warning they would not be able to get the strawberries in because they were running short of migrant labour?

In this country we have responsible journalism.
Our media are responsible for all kind of things which they'll never admit to.

NB The BBC website version of this story is better than the way it was handled on TV, referring to a network of crime around the Punjabi workers rather than depicting them as criminals. So it might not be the reporters we have to blame.

Labels: , ,

Monday, July 14, 2008

Taking the Rise out of London

"I TOLD YOU SO". Not quite. I didn't anticipate how far the RCP would go, but even so many comrades felt my warnings against them in 1986 were unfair.

IT was the Rise festival in Finsbury Park on Sunday, and with a friend's partner leading one highly-rated group on the programme, I might have volunteered to help on a stall. But I did not go, there was no stall for me to help on, because unions and left-wing groups that have supported the event in previous years decided to pull out.

Rise was no ordinary music festival. As Megan Dobney, Trade Union Congress(TUC) regional secretary for London, the South East and East, reminds us in the latest SERTUC news bulletin, "The Rise festival, established by the TUC in the late 90s following the MacPherson enquiry after the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence by racists, carried a strongly anti-racist message to participants with the strapline 'London United Against Racism'."

Taken over by Ken Livingstone as Mayor of London, the festival was called "Respect" until George Galloway started a political party with that name. It was supposed to celebrate London's diversity and bring people together, young people especially, to reject racism and fascism while enjoying the fun of the fair, the food, drink and music.

With London's political hue changing, in the shape of new Tory mayor Boris Johnson, the south-east region TUC (SERTUC) approached the Greater London Authority to ask if Rise would still go ahead. They were assured that Boris intended to honour his predecessor's commitment to what seemed like a tradition. Subject to some budgetary restrictions, Rise would go ahead, with its anti-racist theme. Plans included the big trade union stalls section Union City, the Latin American stage sponsored by my union Unite with the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, and an African Village sponsored by Unison.

So what happened?

As Megan tells us, Boris Johnson's newly appointed adviser, Munira Mirza, "Director of Policy, Arts, Culture and the Creative Industries', to give her full title, contacted the Cuba Solidarity Campaign to say its participation was not welcome. Next, she said the National Assembly Against Racism (NAAR), which worked with SERTUC, would no longer be a partner in the event, and its volunteers were not required. And there we were thinking the campaign against the previous mayor's adviser, Lee Jasper, was just about him and his job, and nothing to do with his background! Jasper was secretary of NAAR when Livingstone enlisted him. NAAR ws supportive of Livingstone. But it also strongly supported the Lawrence family campaign.

Munira Mirza said the Rise festival's anti-racist message was being dropped.

The news was welcomed as a victory by Richard Barnbrook, the British National Party's man on the Greater London Assembly.

Unison at its annual conference carried an emergency motion to withdraw from the festival, and other unions, including Unite, the Communication Workers Union, the Fire Brigades Union and the University and Colleges Union followed suit. The Jewish Socialists' group wrote to the festival organisers to say it would not be requiring a stall this year, but looked forward to participating in future when the anti-racist character was restored.

Munira Mirza herself has a curious background. She was in the Manifesto club, one of the current manifestations of the late Revolutionary Communist Party(RCP), publishers of the glossy magazine 'Living Marxism', or 'LM' as it became known. Back in the 1980s this then trendy outfit, originating in a split from the Socialist Workers Party(SWP), and nicknamed "the SWP with hair gel", recruited young students to its front "East London Workers Against Racism" in the belief they were assisting people to defend themselves against racist attacks. Later it formed South London Workers Against Racism, and a spokesperson appeared on television claiming they were encouraging young black people in Brixton to riot. (The Metropolitan Police had been claiming left-wing groups were behind the trouble, but produced no evidence, and did not follow up the RCP boasting). But Munira Mirza says minorities in London don't need special help, and racism is not a big issue.

The RCP drew antagonism and suspicion on itself from the Left when it called on the NUM to ballot members when their strike was already raging. It also campaigned against Lambeth's left-wing Labour council. Over the years it kept coming up with "radical" arguments for right-wing policies - saying workers should not resist privatisation or defend their union's right to maintain political funds. In November 1986, when I challenged the RCP's 'left-wing' credentials as it stood a candidate in the Knowsley by-election, some of my friends and comrades thought I was being unfair and engaging in "slanders" (though none of the factual points I made was disputed).
(see Workers Press, issues November 15, 22, 29, 1986 for this controversy).

By 1997, Living Marxism had infamously denied Serb nationalist war crimes in Bosnia (its Balkan 'expert' Joan Hoey went on to join the Economist Intelligence Unit), and the RCP supported disgraced Tory Neil Hamilton in his vain effort to hold his Tatton seat against war correspondent Martin Bell who took it as an independent.

Having moved ever more openly to right-wing 'libertarian' policies, the RCP no longer exists, except in the minds of some contrbutors to 'Harry's Place' and other websites, either behind the times or anxious to keep it as a "left-wing" bogy. But it has given rise to a number of offshoots such as the Institute of Ideas, and the Manifesto club, which says "Our aim is to bring together individuals whose ideas don’t necessarily fit into the politics of left and right, but who believe in developing people’s creativity and knowledge".

Well one of these individuals, Munira Mirza has had no trouble fitting her ideas with the politics of the right, not just those of Boris Johnson, but of Richard Barnbrook.

Whenever we came into contact with the RCP in the past, we got the feeling that maybe they were indulging in some kind of joke, albeit sometimes a bit sick. Maybe this time Munira Mirza is taking the Rise out of London and its anti-racist Left.

But perhaps what happened to Rise isn't altogether a bad thing. Finsbury Park, besides being a venue for festivals, is the home of the RMT branch organising low-paid cleaners, many of them immigrants, fighting for a living wage and better conditions on the London Underground. Now we are learning that fighting racism is about class struggle, not cosying up to the mayor for an annual music fest, we can go fight City Hall knowing the gloves are off.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, July 11, 2008

Tsvai HaGanefim HaIsraelim - An Army of Thieves and Occupiers

BUSY road into Nablus. But this was before the Occupation tightened its grip around this important Palestinian city, stifling the economy.

PARDON my Hebrew, but the so-called Israel Defence Forces are an Army of Thieves. I'm not just talking about soldiers helping themselves to stuff, every army has them, and the same goes for officers running profitable little sidelines. Put somebody with a gun in charge of civilians and their property, and there you go. The IDF have had 40 years to get used to being occupiers, 60 if you count their role in dispossessing Palestinians in what Israel called its "war of independence", and Palestinians their Nakba (catastrophe), after which those Arabs who had not fled remained under military government for a decade.

But what has just happened in Nablus is theft under orders, and symbolises not just the Israeli Zionist authorities' attitude to the land and its people, but the military's contempt for the so-called peace process of which we hear so much from Israel's supporters in Western governments.

Nablus is one of the main Palestinian cities, with a proud history and, until recent times, a centre of traditional industry, such as soap making, and commerce. The area also has almost a quarter of its population refugees. The occupiers have surrounded the city with road blocks, and caused massive unemployment. People's national pride and frustration was shown in a big majority vote for Hamas. A previous mayor of Nablus, Bassam al Shaka, had his legs blown off in an Israeli terrorist attack. On May 23 last year, in supposed retaliation for the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, Israeli forces staged an over-night raid, seizing mayor Adly Yaiah and two other council members. (Note, when Palestinians take an Israeli, even a combatant, he is "kidnapped", but if Israeli forces take away an elected leader he has been "arrested".That's a style note for contributors to the media, including Wikipedia).

In their latest move the IDF is not content with taking a mayor, they have captured an entire shopping mall! The army told shop owners this week that the property rights to the Nablus mall will be transferred to Israel as of 15 August. The army said they will imprison anyone who enters the building for 5 years. The mall, they claimed, is being used to fund terrorist activities.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad condemned the high-handed move, declaring “we consider the actions of the Israeli army as invalid, and ask that Israel respect this decision, based on agreements between the PA and Israel.` Calling on Nabulsis to reopen their stores in the mall, in defiance of the occupiers, Fayyad added that he would like to `send a message to the international community` and tell them that the PA is `insisting to walk within our principles until freedom is achieved.`

Fatah called for action over the Israeli seizure, . and local people urged the Palestinian Authority to give special aid to Nablus to overcome unemployment and poverty caused by the occupiers. But meanwhile the Israeli military appears to have accompanied its proclamation with a wholesale theft of essential items from the city, and trashing of civil and private property..

The Israeli-based "Occupation" magazine which keeps track of repression and provocations by the military published this letter which a Nablus resident had sent to a friend:

hi......and hope everybody is ok.
For the last 3 days, the people in Nablus awoke at a great shock to discover that the Iraeli army has confiscated their property in a very organised and well planned is what happened... during the first night, and at around 12, many military vehicles accompanied by huge containers attacked a school, a clinic and a mosque...the entrance doors were broken, exploded and damaged...all the inside furniture, equipments, tools, files,and other property were carried by the soldiers into the lorries... you would never imagine that these things would ever be taken... the computers, files, cameras, the chairs and tables from the school, even the doors - unbelievable - .... these places were left empty with a state of mess and damaged things... the school and clinic were ordered closed for 3 years... the second night a huge shopping center called Nablus mall was also attacked in the same way... this Building has over 50 stores including a bank, many shops for furniture, one of the shops was the one that I bought you your presents dear [yyyyy] and dear [xxxxx], a restaurant, a supermarket, and many offices... the property of 4 places were emptied into the lorries in the middle of the night... other shops were messed up and others were damaged... a leaflet was left and it said that the mall will be closed for 2 years, and that the property that has been taken---stolen, confiscated---now belongs to the Israeli army... anyone dares to enter will be prisoned... at the same time, 5 mosques were entered and messed up in different places in the city... finally, last night, the building of the municipality of Nablus--I am sure you remember it dear [xxxxx] -- was attacked in the same way... the computers that are used for water and electricity services were all taken, in addition to files and other stuff... some items were damaged during the attack, and night guards in all situations got beaten up... you would not believe this: 5 big size buses that carry students and belong to a school were driven into the lorries and taken... we do not know who`s next tonight... may be our house properties, our furniture and kitchen equipment... could this be true... no one owns anything anymore... we all belong to the Israeli army.... our lands, our olive trees, our bodies, the water we drink, the air we breathe, the food we get from the super market, our family members who are in jail, our beds and chairs..... what is left for us? our brains??????maybe I do not know what to add, because there is nothing to be added. so, take care and stay in touch since I feel isolated, and somehow vulnerable and no longer in touch ..... i love you both... i really do...

In the House of Commons at Westminster this week, replying to questions by Labour MP Phylis Starkey, Prime Minister Gordon Brown assured MPs that the peace process between Israel and the Palestinian Authority was making important progress, and appealed to both sides to avoid provocations. In robbing the people of Nablus this way, the Israeli military is robbing Palestinians and Israelis alike of their hopes for peace and a better life, and it is also ripping off the respectability with which Western governments attempt to cloth their support for Israeli aggression and oppression.

Labels: ,

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Incompatibility is not an academic question

HOW closely are British universities and the people who run them tied to the politics of state, or the interests of big business? How compatible are such ties, or the desire to cultivate them, with integrity and academic freedom?

We recently reported the case of Hisham Yezza, a former PhD student turned employee of the University of Nottingham, who found himself detained and facing deportation to Algeria, as a result of being too helpful to an MA student at the university with a "terrorist" document he had downloaded for his dissertation. Someone saw it on Hisham's computer, and though the document was available from official US websites and elsewhere, the university authorities did not ask their employee what it was, they simply called the police.

Hisham and the student were arrested by armed police acting under the Terrorism Act. Their homes were raided, and though they were both eventually cleared of any charges, Hisham was re-arrested because his visa had not been renewed, and he was carted away to Colnbrook detention centre, near Heathrow. Last thing I heard he had been moved again, maybe to avoid demonstrations. There is a campaign on Hisham's behalf, with support from students, former colleagues, and Nottingham MP Alan Simpson. But the University, justifying its initial decision to call in police said there was no threat to academic freedom involved, because though Hisham had studied at the university he was only a member of clerical staff.

Dr. Rhetta Moran was never charged with any offence, nor could she be deported, but she was sacked by the University of Salford in 2005, for what appeared to be political reasons, even if her university bosses seem to have been unable to decide whether she had done anything wrong or if she was simply being made "redundant". The closest they came to spelling out a reason was to say her research was not "compatible" with the university's aims.

On March 28, 2004 the Observer ran a story about women asylum seekers who had gone 'underground' because of harassment and fear in Salford. Rhetta Moran was quoted as s source, saying that asylum seekers had been dumped in poor estates, without any provision for extra services or adequate legal access. With local people already short of resources, this had resulted in tensions. Dr. Moran had previously exposed how Iraqi asylum seekers were being deported. Soon after the Observer article appeared she was removed from her post with a government-funded research project on the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers. Next came the moves from the University.

Rhetta fought to be reinstated, taking her case to the employment tribunal, with support from the National Union of Journalists. She was unsuccessful. Salford University even tried to obtain £10,000 in costs, which would have served as a deterrent to other sacked employees seeking justice from the tribunals. But where was the Association of University Teachers, now the University and Colleges Union(UCU), and its president Sally Hunt, in all this?

Rhetta Moran has discovered that Mike Burrows, chief executive of Salford Primary Care Trust, wrote to her boss at the university, Professor Michael Harloe, in April 2004, shortly after the Observer article, to tell him that she was being removed from the refugee research project. Then in January 2005, the day after she was sacked by the university, the deputy PM's office announced a multi-million regeneration scheme for central Salford, in which Prof. Harloe, Salford's vice chancellor, would play a major part. ( Incidentally, I hear the "regeneration" in parts of Salford is becoming a dirty word, as the developers move in, and working people who cannot afford the new properties in their old neighborhood are forced to move out. But that is another story.)

It turns out that John Dobson, head of Salford's business school, who signed Rhetta Moran's letter of dismissal, telling her that her research was no longer "compatible", has become president of the Salford University UCU branch.

Now Rhetta Moran, having had time to spend with her family and pursue her own research, has written to Sally Hunt, with support from a Sheffield University academic, Dr.Aubrey Blumsohn, whose particular interest has been scientific misconduct, but is also concerned with academic bullying. They recall that Sally Hunt wrote on September 28, 2005, to say that she was asking for a report on what happened to Rhetta Moran, but say they are still waiting to hear from her. They are concerned not just with this case, but with what UCU's general position
is on so-called "incompatibility", and how it affects academic freedom and integrity. They think this is a major issue for the union, and for all involved in higher education and research. I think they are right. .

Here is some background material which Aubrey Blumsohn has been kind enough to send me:

Part 1: A story and statement from Rhetta Moran

Part 2: Letter of this week to Sally Hunt from Rhetta and myself

A Letter to sally Hunt (Moran/Blumsohn)

part 3: The cartoon version

the cartoon version

Labels: , , ,

Friday, July 04, 2008

Unite with open minds, not closed doors

FLURRY of flags announced new merged union.
JERRY HICKS, with megaphone, and supporters, during ant-deportations campaign. The ex-convener is challenging leadership.

THERE were a couple of surprises at London's May Day march a year ago. First, as we gathered at Clerkenwell Green, a bevy of persons turned up outside the Marx Memorial Library waving white flags with a flowing ribbony logo, and the word 'Unite the Unon'. I was wondering who they were, and what it was about, when two friends came up and asked me the same question. The three of us, members of different branches of the Transport and General Workers Union(TGWU), were unaware that 'Unite - the union' was to be the name for the new giant union being formed by our union's merger with the engineering union Amicus.

The union executive member who enlightened me on this wasn't too happy, feeling the name and logo had been announced from on high, without waiting for discussion, so those flags and what-not could be ready as a fait accompli. Ah well, a rose by any other name...

The next surprise was in Trafalgar Square, when the chair welcomed our new big union, which was nice, but it was also announced that we were to be part of an even bigger union, a trans-Atlantic link-up with the United Steel Workers of America (USWA).

This was something new. We had voted in a ballot on whether to merge with Amicus. It had been discussed in branches. Members of both unions are concerned as to how it will affect the structures and rule book, but hopeful we will be strengthened by co-operation rather than competition in the workplace. I don't recall any discussion, or prior information, let alone the opportunity to decide democratically about relations with the American union.

May Day is about international solidarity, and it all began with workers demonstrating in Chicago. The USWA once had a militant, heroic stature, albeit in the past. All the same, I thought, Britain has a steel union too (even if it has rebranded itself Community in the aftermath of steel plant closures), so why would the US steel union be linking with our union?
Apart from such formality, if it's solidarity we're talking about, the obvious partner that sprung to mind for us was the West Coast longshoremen's union ILWU, who took action in support of the Liverpool dockers, TGWU members, something our own union felt it couldn't do (because of Tory anti-union laws). Or is that still too embarrassing for some?

There was a delegation from the West Coast union in Britain last weekend. They attended the National Shop Stewards Network (NSSN) conference, where Jack Hayman from San Francisco spoke about the action workers there took to oppose the Iraq war, something else on which they have given a lead. The ILWU members also called in at RMT headquarters to meet members of that union. As was mentioned at conference, it was rail workers in Scotland who refused to move munitions at the start of the Iraq war.

While i was at the conference I bought a copy of Solidarity, the trade union magazine, which is edited by Martin Wicks and supported by his Swindon trades union council, and several others. In the Summer issue Kim Moody, who has a background in the American unions, discusses some of the flaws in a likely top-heavy super-union. Some people are arguing that merger with an American union is necessary to take on multi-nationals. Bro.Moody points out that, in terms of industries and jobs, "UNITE has more overlap with the United Auto Workers.
But just as the T&G leadership developed a 'special relationship' with the Service Employees International Union in the US, so Amicus leader Derek Simpson partnered with the Steelworkers".

From what I have been belatedly learning about the Service Employees International Union(SEIU), workers' internationalism could be the last thing on the agenda, or more likely missing altogether from all these "unity" moves. "Partnership" with American big business might figure more prominently in the American union's thinking. SEIU leader Andy Stern, whom Tony Woodley welcomed to TGWU conference in 2005 as a "visionary" has praised Solidarity - the Polish one that is - leader Lech Walesa, for "winning the cold war", and "destroying all obstacles to market capitalism". But the SEIU leader also likes China's official Stalinist ACFTU unions for adapting to their country's penetration by US companies.

Contrary to the impression given in Trafalgar Square last year, the unification with the USWA has still to get the go-ahead, and Kim Moody thinks there might be just a looser federation.
But as he says, "It's hard to know because whatever the progress or lack of it, it is going on behind closed doors".

Hasty as they were in getting out logos and flags, the merger managers haven't managed to get a smooth run so far. Solidarity reports that Amicus members on the new executive have been given a right telling off by Derek Simpson, even accused of "treachery", for showing too much enthusiasm for unity by voting for a TGWU member as union president. Meanwhile Simpson is facing a legal challenge from former Rolls Royce Bristol convener Jerry Hicks, who says the Unite general secretary was only ever elected by the old Amalgamated Electrical and Engineering Union before it merged with smaller unions to form Amicus, that he is past retirement age, and it is time for a new election for the joint general secretary. Back in 2002 Jerry Hicks was one of the people who helped Derek Simpson wrest the leadership of the engineering union from right-winger Sir Ken Jackson. Now if his challenge succeeds, Tony Woodley may also have to stand down, and Bro.Hicks has said he will stand for general secretary.

Reporting on Unite's first joint executive committee in Solidarity, Gill George believes TGWU members reflected more of a tradition of membership participation and democracy, but both joint general secretaries argued for limits on lay members involvement in the executive. Both also want to insist that the union's political work remains under the exclusive control of card-carrying Labour Party members.

With members soon to be asked to vote on a new rule book which some say severely curtails the independence of branches, it looks like the fight is on for democracy in Britain's biggest union and biggest contributor to the Labour Party. It may also be a fight with international ramifications.

Solidarity the trade union magazine (not to be confused with other organisations or papers using that name) has a website at

Gill George has a blog at


Thursday, July 03, 2008

Violence in and out of the headlines

AN Israeli friend contacted me and others last night to assure us she and her family were safe and sound, having been nowhere near the Jerusalem street where a man took a bulldozer to trample cars and turn a bus over. Three people had been killed and forty four injured. The bulldozer driver, a Palestinian building worker from East Jerusalem, was shot dead by an off-duty Israeli soldier.

I expect my young Israeli friend is used to anxious friends and relatives wanting reassurance whenever they hear that something like this has happened in her country. Palestinians also have fearing and grieving friends and relatives of course, but their deaths and injuries and daily ill-treatment do not make the news headlines or television screens so much.

What happened in Jerusalem was horrible, and won't be lessened by quoting statistics (more than 400 Palestinians killed this year, Israeli deaths a fraction of that, and I don't think the figure includes people who died because they were denied medical treatment, or women dying or having stillbirths because they were prevented from reaching maternity hospitals and had to give birth at army roadblocks). One innocent death is too many.

But what worries me is that Western media attitudes worsen matters, and not only because discriminatory treatment creates desperation. As soon as the news came yesterday there was talk of how this action by one individual "might affect the peace process", and sympathy for Israel's "dilemna"; the man came from East Jerusalem, which the Israeli state has unilaterally annexed as part of its own territory, and so it is difficult to blame the Palestinian Authority, or to carry out the kind of collective punishment which Israeli forces routinely carry out in Gaza and the Occupied West Bank. Which does not mean they won't have a damn good try. Out come the bulldozers ...oh, but that's where we came in. More deaths and destruction.

One way of enlightening people's views, in the Middle East and beyond, is if the Palestinians have good communicators, to show their side, articulate their people's aspirations and gain a fairer hearing and respect. A fortnight ago, a Palestinian called Mohammed Omer Alimghaer was in London to receive the prestigious Martha Gellhorn Prize for journalism, sharing it with Dahr Jamal who has been reporting from Iraq. Mohammed Omer, 24, works for Interpress (IPS) and is the youngest ever recipient.

Yesterday we heard that he was in the European Hospital, Gaza, recovering from his treatment at the hands of Israeli security police, the notorious Shin Bet (Sherut Bitakhon Klalit, general security service, also known as Shabak). Mohammed Omer had been given a Dutch diplomatic escort to enable him to travel from Gaza to London, via the Israeli airport, but he was separated from his Dutch escort when he flew back. The security men at the airport demanded to see the money he had received as his prize.. This is what happened next, as described by Mohammed Omer to veteran journalist John Pilger, who had awarded him the prize in London:

I was now surrounded by eight Shin Bet officers, all armed. The man called Avi ordered me to take off my clothes. I had already been through an x-ray machine. I stripped down to my underwear and was told to take off everything. When I refused, Avi put his hand on his gun. I began to cry: 'Why are you treating me this way? I am a human being.' He said, 'This is nothing compared with what you will see now.' He took his gun out, pressing it to my head and with his full body weight pinning me on my side, he forcibly removed my underwear. He then made me do a concocted sort of dance. Another man, who was laughing, said, 'Why are you bringing perfumes?' I replied, 'They are gifts for the people I love'. He said, 'Oh, do you have love in your culture?' "As they ridiculed me, they took delight most in mocking letters I had received from readers in England. I had now been without food and water and the toilet for 12 hours, and having been made to stand, my legs buckled. I vomited and passed out. All I remember is one of them gouging, scraping and clawing with his nails at the tender flesh beneath my eyes. He scooped my head and dug his fingers in near the auditory nerves between my head and eardrum. The pain became sharper as he dug in two fingers at a time. Another man had his combat boot on my neck, pressing into the hard floor. I lay there for over an hour. The room became a menagerie of pain, sound and terror." An ambulance was called and told to take Mohammed to a hospital, but only after he had signed a statement indemnifying the Israelis from his suffering in their custody. The Palestinian medic refused, courageously, and said he would contact the Dutch embassy escort. Alarmed, the Israelis let the ambulance go. The Israeli response has been the familiar line that Mohammed was "suspected" of smuggling and "lost his balance" during a "fair" interrogation, Reuters reported yesterday.

Israeli human rights groups have documented the routine torture of Palestinians by Shin Bet agents with "beatings, painful binding, back bending, body stretching and prolonged sleep deprivation". Amnesty has long reported the widespread use of torture by Israel, whose victims emerge as mere shadows of their former selves. Some never return. Israel is high in an international league table for its murder of journalists, especially Palestinian journalists, who receive barely a fraction of the kind of coverage given to the BBC's Alan Johnston. The Dutch government says it is shocked by Mohammed Omer's treatment. The former ambassador Jan Wijenberg said: "This is by no means an isolated incident, but part of a long-term strategy to demolish Palestinian social, economic and cultural life ... I am aware of the possibility that Mohammed Omer might be murdered by Israeli snipers or bomb attack in the near future."

While he was in London Mohammed Omar gave a presentation on what life is like in Gaza, telling of the brutality of Israeli forces, the killing of his brother, and the demolition of the family home. This was videoed for Islington Friends of Yibna, a group formed to help the Yibna refugee camp at Rafeah. Yibna was a former Palestinian village in what is now Israel, and the woman leading the Islington friends is Yael Kahn, an Israeli who grew up in a settlement where the village once stood, and came to realise that an injustice had been committed, for which she wants to make up. She has visited the Yibna camp and made friends with people there, including Mohammed Omer and his family.

What has shocked Yael is not so much the Shin Bet treatment of this young journalist - she says she knew of such things from her work with the Women's Organisation for Political Prisoners - as the way it has been treated by the media here, particularly the BBC, after it ignored his visit. "Five days after the assault on Mohammed, Israel released its version, which trivialises Mohammed's ordeal. Sadly the BBC chose to publish the Israeli denial as its title ...Israel denies injuring reporter. In fact the BBC website chose to inform of Mohammad's Martha Gellhorn Prize for the first time, under that title of the Israeli denial."

As she reminds us, the Israeli authorities initially denied responsibility for the killing of British photojournalist Tom Hurndall. Only after a relentless campaign by his parents was it admitted that the killer was an Israeli soldier.

Islington Friends of Yibna are urging protests to the Israeli authorities over the torture of Mohammed Omer Alimghaer, and complaints to the BBC over its treatment of this news.
for BBC report see,
to complain see

Video of Mohammed omer recieving Gellhorn award:

See also:

and Desert Peace comment:

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

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

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.

Labels: , , , , ,