Sunday, May 31, 2009

If leaders had not missed a tip, unions might have backed a winner

A WEEK, as Harold Wilson used to say, is a long time in politics. As not a week goes by without fresh revelations of MPs' generosity to themselves at public expense, and Labour sinks lower than ever in the polls, each agonising week till it ends must seem even longer.

A YEAR is even longer, and though my memory isn't as bad as that of those MPs who claim for mortgages forgetting they've already been paid, I'd quite forgotten a little discussion I witnessed a year ago at Sheffield Town hall. Well, there have been wars and things to take my mind off it.

But this weekend at the trades union councils' conference in Eastbourne, our attention was drawn to one of the resolutions we adopted last year in Sheffield:

14 MP and Ministers' expenses

Because of all the publicity highlighting the expense claims by MPs, MEPs and Ministers - of which some are obviously working the system for their own benefit, which after all is tax payers' money - it begs the question are they there to serve the electorate or for financial reasons, i.e. to make money out of the tax payer? And as the rules for MPs and MEPs expenses are so weak they can claim for nearly everything, even their families. Union members will tell you that it is wrong for MPs, MEPs and Ministers to make themselves rich at taxpayers' expense.

So Conference requests the TUC General Council:
(i) to express our grave concerns about that to the Prime Minister; and
(ii) seek assurances that the rules governing MPs and Ministers" expenses will be tightened up, particularly with regard to accommodation and transport in this current year.
(iii) that a leading labour politician be invited to speak on the progress of this issue at next year's TUC Conference.

Greater Manchester

This reminder prompted Jeremy Dear of the National Union of Journalists to quip that if he knew who had drafted that resolution he would like to ask their thoughts on the 2.30 at Newmarket.

Well, it was not me. Matter of fact, although I listened to the debate last year, I did not realise the significance it might have. But there is a body of people who are supposed to pay attention to our deliberations. As you will see, the resolution on MPs and Ministers' expenses called on the TUC General Council to do something.

In previous years the Report on the year's work handed to conference delegates has included the previous year's resolutions with a comment after each one, indicating what the TUC has made of it. This year there was nothing after the resolutions, but simply a note before them: "All motions and amendments were agreed by Conference. All motions were in line with TUC policy and did not need particular reference to the TUC General Council".

It's nice to know that the "general staff" of Britain's trade union movement approved of a motion sent up line by the conference of the movement's area lay councils, and dealing with politicians' expenses. But a motion becomes a resolution when you resolve to do something, or as in this case call on your leaders to do something. And as delegates observed, if only the TUC had taken notice, and done something in line with this far-sighted resolution, Britain's trade union movement could have been ahead of the Tory press on this issue, and able to separate itself from the disgrace of corrupt MPs, and to win public respect by giving a lead, rather than reduced to coping with the consequences of disillusionment with Labour.

If might also lead us look at some union leaders' income and privileges. So be it.

This year's trades councils' conference, on the same weekend that Vauxhall car workers were anxiously watching talks on the future of their company, and seeing a "Labour" government less able or willing to look after their future than a Tory government does for jobs in Germany, was naturally concerned with something even bigger than the row over MPs expenses. The first motion on the agenda, "Response to the Economic Crisis", was a composite from Harlow, West Midlands, Swansea, Oxfordshire and Cardiff.

As well as jobs, and wages, it referred to homes, and to the need to defend public services, and regain union rights, and the 2008 Trades Union Congress resolution for public ownership of utilities and services. A delegate from Coventry wanted to know why a call for nationalisation of the banks, which had been part of the original motion agreed by West Midlands, had been lost in the compositing. He and others proposed it be restored. The chair said this could not be done because those party to the compositing had agreed to its removal. We then heard that some had only agreed because they had been told that if nationalisation of the banks stayed, the whole resolution would be ruled out of order as contrary to TUC policy.

At a time when public disgust and anger with the banks irresponsibility has not abated, nor been lessened by seeing massive public funds used to bail them out, it seems our union bureaucrats are afraid to let us discuss public ownership and control, or appear even as left-wing as the Liberal Democrats! On high finance, as on the corruption of parliament, our union leaders tied to New Labour would sooner leave the door open to the far Right to capitalise on people's unease and anger, even as they try to frighten us with warnings against "extremism".

On a practical level, given the chance to submit one motion to trades union congress itself this year, delegates opted to prioritise the resolution from Tyne and Wear, for reviving and developing TUC unemployed workers' centres. In discussion it was said these should not only advise unemployed union members and help them remain active in the trade union movement, but assist young people and migrant workers who found themselves unemployed, and bring them into the movement.

Though badly hit by de-industrialisation, weakened unions, and neglect,the trades union councils have been reviving in recent years, representing trade unionism in the community, and unemployed centres are a natural extension for them in this period.

If not so many delegates came to conference this year, as a couple of my friends suggested, that could be due to chance factors. It could also be that, enjoyable as the weekend was, some trades unionists aren't convinced of the relevance of such discussions to their own struggles, or don't see the value of a democracy in which attempts to influence policy must be tailored to fit existing policy, and even then don't lead to new initiatives. If so it is a mistake. Any opportunity for rank-and-file activists to get together, exchange experience and ideas, and discuss policies, should be taken, whether it is the trades councils' conference which happened this weekend, or the National Shop Stewards Network which is meeting on June 27. We can challenge the leadership in the TUC or Labour Party, and more important, rebuild the real labour movement. .

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Culture of Power attacks Power of Culture, in Jerusalem

ARMED Israeli Border Police invaded a Palestinian theatre in Jerusalem on Saturday evening, just as an internationally-supported literary festival was about to open, and ordered it to close.

A squad of a dozen or so police walked into the Palestine National Theatre in East Jerusalem. They brought with them a letter from the Israeli Ministry of Internal Security which said the festival could not be allowed, because it was supported by the Palestine National Authority.

The week-long festival is being supported by the British Council and UNESCO, and has attracted leading authors from abroad – including Henning Mankell, Michael Palin and Ahdaf Soueif – to do a speaking tour of Jerusalem and the West Bank. Saturday night's opening session was to feature a panel of authors from Britain, Australia, South Africa and Canada.

The ordered the audience and eight speakers - from to leave, but the event was held several minutes later, on a smaller scale, in the garden of the nearby French Cultural Centre. It was interrupted by poweer cuts and police sirens. Israeli police were deployed on the street outside, with five vehicles.

"We're so taken aback. It's completely, completely independent," said Egyptian novelist Soueif, who is chairing the Festival. "I think it's very telling," she told the crowd at the French centre. "Our motto, which is taken from the late Edward Said, is to pit the power of culture against the culture of power."

The French consul attended the event, as did Rafiq Al-Husseini, from the Palestinian president's office. Al-Husseini condemned the Israeli actions, but praised France for stepping up to host the event, viewing it as empowering Palestinian demands for reopening offices in the capital. This year was declared Jerusalem, Al Quds -Capital of Arab Culture year by UNESCO, but events have faced frequent harassment.

Video of the festival team arriving, held up at Allenby Bridge, and starting tour:

Israel has unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem and its environs, and Prime Minister Benyam Netanyahu insists there is no way it would share the city with the Palestinians as part of a peace deal. The Zionist state's apologists like to say Jerusalem shall not be "divided again"; but as Saturday night's police action should remind us, it remains bitterly divided - between occupiers and occupied - and the Israeli authorities are doing everything to deny Palestinian rights in the city.

In Edinburgh a group of protesters were accused of "racism" for interrupting an Israeli dance event as part of the boycott. But the organisers of the film festival have acknowledged they made a mistake accepting money from the Israeli government.
I'm not a great fan of cultural boycotts myself. They can often misfire and hit the wrong people. But for harassment and intimidation, a few students dishing out leaflets can hardly compare with an Israeli army roadblock, or armed police raiding a theatre to close a literary festival. Perhaps all those people who jealously guard what they call "cultural freedom", against boycotters, will raise their voices over this Israeli action?

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

A prisoner of American "freedom" in Iraq

JUST how independent is Iraq under US occupation? How are people enjoying the "freedom" which US and British forces supposedly fought to deliver, after the dark old days of Saddam Hussein?

Ibrahim Jassam and his family must be wondering what has changed since those dark days. Ibrahim, a cameraman and photographer for Reuters news agency, is being held by the U.S. without charges. He was taken in September. While we have been shown pictures on TV of British troops preparing to withdraw from Iraq, and Iraqi soldiers and police taking over responsibility for law and order in their own country, the US occupation has spread. An Iraqi court ordered Ibrahim Jassam's release, but the U.S. military rejected this, saying he is a 'high security threat.'

The story is told in the Los Angeles Times:

It was 1.30 in the morning when American and Iraqi soldiers, with dogs, came to the home of the Jassam family, in Mahmoudiya, south of Baghdad. They broke down the door, and rousing family members who were sleeping on the roof to escape the late-summer heat.

"Where is the journalist Ibrahim?" one of the Iraqi soldiers barked at the grandparents, children and grandchildren as they staggered blearily down the stairs. Ibrahim Jassam, a cameraman and photographer for the Reuters news agency, stepped forward, one of this brothers recalled. "Take me if you want me, but please leave my brothers." The soldiers rifled through the house, confiscating his computer hard drive and cameras. And then they led him away, handcuffed and blindfolded.

'That was Sept. 2. Jassam, 31, has been in U.S. custody ever since. His case is the latest of a dozen detentions the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has documented since 2001. No formal accusations have been made against Jassam, and an Iraqi court ordered in November that he be released for lack of evidence. But the U.S. military continues to hold him, saying it has intelligence that he is "a high security threat," said Maj. Neal Fisher, spokesman for detainee affairs.

'The Obama administration harshly criticized Iran for its imprisonment of Roxana Saberi, the U.S.-Iranian journalist who was convicted of espionage and sentenced to eight years in prison before being freed two weeks ago. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton criticized Iran's treatment of Saberi as "non-transparent, unpredictable and arbitrary."

'Washington also has called upon North Korea to expedite the trial of two U.S. journalists being held on spying charges. Yet the U.S. has routinely used the arbitrary powers it assumed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism attacks to hold journalists without charge in Iraq, as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Committee to Protect Journalists said.

'None of the detained journalists has been convicted of any charge, undermining the United States' reputation when it comes to criticizing other countries on issues of press freedom, committee executive director Joel Simon said. "The U.S. has a record of holding journalists for long periods of time without due process and without explanation. Its standing would be improved if it addressed this issue."

'Reuters has expressed disappointment over Jassam's detention and has said there is no evidence against him.
Sami Haj, a cameraman for the TV network Al Jazeera, was detained by Pakistani authorities as he tried to cross into Afghanistan in 2001 to cover the offensive against the Taliban. He was turned over to the U.S. military, which held him for six years at the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He was accused him of being a courier for militant Islamic organizations, but was never charged. He was released a year ago.

'In Iraq, Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein was held for two years without trial before being released in April 2008 on the orders of an Iraqi judge under the terms of an amnesty law. The U.S. military maintained that Hussein had links to insurgents, but the AP said the allegations were based on nothing more than the Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs of insurgents that he had taken on the streets of Ramadi, in western Iraq.

'Jassam is the only Iraqi journalist still in U.S. custody, the last to be detained under wartime rules that predated a U.S.-Iraqi security agreement signed in December. Under the new accord, U.S. forces must obtain a warrant before they can arrest an Iraqi citizen. Jassam was detained without a warrant "as the result of his activity with a known insurgent organization," Fisher said. No evidence against Jassam was presented at his court hearing in November, Fisher said, because the military intelligence against him had not yet been verified.

'Under the wartime rules in place at the time, he said, "there was no requirement to link the military intelligence with rule of law type of evidentiary procedures." After the court ordered Jassam's release, Fisher said, new evidence came to light that suggested he was a "high security threat.",0,5984536.story?track=rss

Ibrahim Jassam is being held at Camp Bocca, a tented US prison camp in the desert in southern Iraq. His brother, Walid, visited him recently there, and says he found Ibrahim close to the breaking point. "He used to be handsome, but now he's pale and he's tired," said Walid, who says his brother had no ties to insurgents. "Every now and then while we were talking, he would start crying. He was begging me: 'Please do something to get me out of here. I don't know what is the charge against me.'

"I told him we already tried everything."

It could be another year before Iraqi authorities are able to exercise legal powers to try and release Ibrahim Jassam from US custody. For now, Iraq continues experiencing freedom - for US forces to do what they like.


Friday, May 22, 2009

Uphill march to defend London jobs and education

WHEN I turn into Manor Gardens off the Holloway Road, and pass the public library, I remember the story I heard from a friend who lives nearby, how when it opened a century ago they needed crowd control, so many people being excited by the prospect of a free public lending library.

My generation grew up taking such amenities for granted, even suspicious of some of the ways our libraries are changing. Manor Gardens itself has been a bit of a cultural oasis in recent years, with various groups using the impressive Beaux Arts building, as well as the community centre, and children's nursery.

But tomorrow a crowd will be marching past along the Holloway road in a different mood, trying to defend threatened jobs, education and services. They will start from London Metropolitan University, where it was announced that 550 posts will be cut, actually leading to some 800-900 job losses, amounting to 25 per cent of the workforce.

It's all part of the depression, though there is a sub-plot. It seems the uni had been trying to protect its funding by being economical with what it said about students dropping out. It has been alleged the funding council knew and connived at this. Maybe that was easier than securing more funds that were still needed, or asking why so many students were having to drop out, which might also have something to do with funding. The National Audit Office is now looking into university finance generally.

Meanwhile the London Met is having to pay back £36 million and make the sackings. This will mean fewer lecturers able to use their specialised knowledge, and larger classes for students, meaning less individual contact time with staff. Libraries and student nurseries will be hit, and IT provision is being outsourced,with more loss of jobs. Jobs in Reception and Student Services will also be lost, leaving longer queues and more stress for the staff remaining.

Just up the road another 500 jobs are threatened at the Archway Tower,which the government has decided to close, relocating a little-known civil service department called the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG). It is little-known but important if you or someone in your family is mentally and physically incapacitated. The Office helps with these people's financial, health and welfare affairs, and dedicated officers pay home visits. Under the new proposals the clients may have to ring some distant call centre. Speaking from experience that sounds like a marvellous way of looking after anyone's mental health.

At the other end of Holloway Road, City University's Centre for Adult Education is likely to lose 100 staff as a result of government cuts in funding. At a time of recession, and with a government that had already been talking of "helping" disabled and single parents off benefits and back into work, you'd think they would be spending more on adult education and retraining. But maybe that's a naive idea.

Tomorrow's march assembles 11 am at Highbury Fields, and will go to Archway Tower. it is being supported by the Universities and College Union(UCU) and Unison branches at London Met, City University UCU and other branches, and by Islington branch of the civil service union PCS, and the NUT. It deserves wide support, being a defence of the area as well those working there.

At Archway, outside the hospital which has seen a few struggles of its own (including my mate's against a heart attack, so he could get out battling politically again), there's an unusual monument - the statue of Dick Whittington's cat. It's certainly time to turn again.

School for Scandal

STILL on the subject of educational institutions, and the consequences of their having been set loose to fend for themselves, which some may have thought seemed a good idea at the time, particularly if they could see the carrots... Events have taken a new turn across town, in the London borough of Brent, where as we saw last month, teachers at Copland community school in Wembley were facing the chop after the whistle was blown on the head's big earnings.

Teacher blew the whistle - now three face the sack

First, union rep Hank Roberts who had been suspended, was reinstated.

Now comes this
report from the Willesden and Brent Times:

Financial probe at scandal hit school

19 May 2009
'Suspended: Headteacher Sir Alan Davies and deputy head Dr Richard Evans
by Lorraine King and Alex Wellman

Financial chaos and bad management have gripped a scandal hit borough school, the Times can exclusively reveal.

The running of Copland Community School in Cecil Avenue, Wembley, is this week being probed by council education chiefs following the suspension of three senior staff.

The headteacher, Sir Alan Davies, deputy head, Dr Richard Evans, and the school bursar, Columbus Odokoro, were suspended last Wednesday.

In a council document leaked to the Times, answers have been demanded of school governors to key questions including:

* How Copland went into £1million debt to a property company?

* How the debt to the firm, Chancery Gate, will be repaid?

* Why Sir Alan Davies was paid a total of £403,000 in the year 2007/2008?

* What the justification is for further bonus payments to Dr Richard Evans?

* Why nine relatives of senior school staff have been employed at Copland?

Brent's director of children and families, John Christie, has demanded answers by June 3 otherwise the council will appoint new governors to run the school.

The Times has spoken to acting headteacher, Philip O'Hear, and a full interview about his plans for the school will appear in next week's paper.

Mr O'Hear is determined the focus of Copland School will remain on learning and providing the very best education for the pupils.'

I am hoping to hear the full story at Brent Trades Union Council next week.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

The posters are coming down!

IT'S nice to get a result now and then. Yesterday I sent a message to London Underground, complaining about some provocative Israeli tourism posters which bore a map showing the whole of pre-1948 mandatory Palestine plus the Golan Heights as though it were all part of Israel.

I pointed out that, far from assisting tourism to Palestinian areas in a neighbourly manner, the Israeli authorities use roadblocks to make it difficult for even the locals to move around, and regularly interfere with bone fide travellers wishing to visit I was particularly angry having heard from a friend who, travelling with his Palestinian wife to visit her family, had been prevented from going to Ramallah with her, and told he could only remain in the country for two days.

I also pointed out that Israeli journalist Amira Hass had been arrested because she had gone into Gaza, and was charged with visiting "enemy territory", and yet the Gaza Strip was shown on the Israeli tourism map as if it were part of Israel.

I wondered whether the purpose of the map and the posters was tourism at all, or if it was a propaganda exercise, aimed at conditioning the public to think all this area was "Israel". So much for the "two state solution" to which the British government is presumably committed, even if the new Israeli government wants to bury it.

Well, I guess London Underground bosses feel they have enough trouble without being used by the Israeli government this way, because news has reached me via the Palestine Solidarity Campaign(PSC) that the offensive posters, which came from the Israeli Tourism Authority together with an outfit called ThinkIsrael, are being removed.

I'd be tempted to claim credit and say it was me writing such a good strong letter that brought such a quick result, but it looks like the move may have been decided before they even had time to read my epistle. PSC says it began mobilising, together with Jews for Justice for Palestinians, as soon as it heard about the posters last week. People complained to the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA), Transport for London, and CBS Outdoors,the company which put up the adverts.

Sarah Colborne, PSC Director of Campaigns and Operations, said:

"The Palestine Solidarity Campaign welcomes the removal of these adverts,
which had a map showing Israel as including the West Bank, Gaza Strip and
the Golan Heights ­ which are all illegally occupied by Israel. These
adverts wiped Palestine off the map. It was particularly grotesque to use
this map in an advert for tourism, given that under the Israeli blockade of
Gaza, even humanitarian aid staff are denied entry.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign had found the posters astonishing, given
that the ASA had already upheld a previous complaint against
for using a similarly misleading map in an advertisement placed in the Radio
Times in 2007".

On that occasion, the ASA ruled that had breached the
Œtruthfulness¹ clause, and also the 'non-response¹ clause, when it failed to
reply to ASA¹s correspondence. PSC welcomes the deluge of complaints from members and supporters on this issue".

I hope President Obama, receiving Binyamin Netanyahu, was just as firm in taking no nonsense from the Israeli prime minister. And now the posters are coming down, let us go for that damned wall!

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Oh Lord! Reputation, Reputation, Reputation! The cost of Taylored legislation.

TWO members of the House of Lords have been suspended by their peers as a result of being exposed as willing to get parliamentary bills amended in return for payments. Lord Truscott and Lord Taylor of Blackburn are the first to be removed from the house since 1642

Lord Truscott, a former energy minister, and Lord Taylor of Blackburn,author of reports on education, and a consultant to British Aerospace, were exposed by undercover reporters from the Sunday Times back in January. Posing as lobbyists, they recorded Lord Taylor saying that he was ready, willing and able to manipulate the parliamentary system, and had done so, to help big business procure amendments to the law that would suit its interests.

The paper accused four Labour peers of "sleaze". they persisted in saying they had done nothing wrong. Two have now been reprimanded, and Taylor and Truscott suspended. Truscott resigned from the Labour Party a week ago, Taylor's membership has been suspended. The Lord's committee on privileges which made the recommendation that the two should be removed had not intially thought the House could do this, or needed to. But it changed its mind.

In a debate on the recommendation the leader of the Lords, Lady Royall, said innocent peers were being "shouted at in the street" because of the damage done to the reputation to the upper house by the affair. Members had been left feeling "sullied". Royall said: "We are at a dark moment for democracy. The trust that people place in parliament and parliamentarians has sunk like a stone. People's disgust at parliament is palpable."

Royall said she thought suspending the two peers was "appropriate, fair and just". She said she was "proud" to belong to the Lords, but that the "cash-for-amendments" affair had damaged the reputation of all members.
Quoting Cassio's speech from Othello – "Reputation, reputation, reputation! Oh, I have lost my reputation! I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial" – she went on: "I'm saddened when the reputation of this house is sullied. I know members on all sides of this house have felt stained and ashamed of the disrepute to which this house has been brought."

The true price of this affair may soon be felt far more widely than the disgraced peers. Baron Taylor of Blackburn is a director of Drax Power, and an advisor to several companies, one of which, Experian credit, agreed on Janury 29 that he should retire. But particular attention is focussing on his consultancy for British Aerospace, which as an arms producer has been looked after both by Tories and Labour. And on Blackburn MP Jack Straw, whom papers describe as a friend of Lord Taylor.

Seeing Taylor's name in the news takes me back about 40 years, to when as a "mature" student at Lancaster University and leading light of the Socialist Society I came across some correspondence from another Lord, not a backstreets boy from Blackburn, but a backwoods Tory, the 19th Earl of Derby, who as pro-chancellor of the University had written to vice chancellor Charles F.Carter expressing his concern about troubles on t'campus. Things might not have seemed serious at Lancaster, but he had given a lift the other night to Ted Heath who had told him "the anarchists have taken over Balliol".

Being naturally interested in what our betters had to say, we published a special issue of "Spark", our Socialist Society magazine (named pretentiously after a certain Russian publication), with Lord Derby's correspondence., with the headline "I was Ted Heath's Chauffeur" or something like that. Unfortunately I have not kept a copy. But in the row which broke out, with complaints of breached confidence, threats of discipline, and accusations of aristocratic influence, students stormed the university council meeting and occupied the senate chamber. The 19th earl had a heart attack, I believe. Since the university council was supposed to link the university with the outside world, students asked how representative it was. "Why are there no women on it?" asked one, while others like myself wanted to know if it had any trades unionists. At this, a member of the council said "Yes, I'm a trade unionist". It was a Labour councillor from Blackburn, by the name of Tom Taylor.

One swallow does not make a Spring, and one union man in its upper body did not prevent Lancaster University digging in its heels the following year against union recognition for its low-paid women cleaners. That led to a strike, and another student occupation, and though the university eventually conceded recognition, it also moved against a whole group of lecturers in the English department, with no obvious connection except they were seen ss left-wing and the most senior of them, Professor David Craig, had written a song for the women cleaners. The prolonged struggle which erupted over this is another story, except that it broke a truce the National Union of Students (NUS) had quietly made with the Tory government, and eventually brought an NUS officer up to lead a demonstration, a young fellow called Jack Straw.

That year, 1972, Tom Taylor became deputy pro-chancellor at Lancaster. Then in 1977 he became both chairman of Norweb electricity and of a government committee on Education, going on to produce the Taylor Report on problems in universities.
Jack Straw was selected in 1977 to stand for Labour in Blackburn, where Barbara Castle was due to stand down.

Straw has been both Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary, and was tipped as a contender for Labour leadership and therefore prime minister. There are people who have been gunning for him from more than direction, including American warmongers who resented his visits to Iran as Foreign Secretary and his remark that their plans to bomb the country were "nuts". They spread the story that Straw was taking this stand because he had too many Muslims in his constituency. This may be one reason he was demoted from Foreign Secretary.

But for now, the attention will be on the relationship with Lord Taylor and British Aerospace. Former British diplomat Craig Murray who stood against Straw in his constituency has been blogging away at this.

Even when Labour was in opposition it helped the Tories avoid a report fom the National Audit Office which said the Thatcher-initiated al Yamama arms deal had cost too much. Then when Labour got in, Foreign Secretary Robin Cook's "ethical dimension" to foreign policy was soon ignored when it came to sending Hawk aircraft to Indonesia. More recently it was Straw as justice minister supposedly charged with stopping corruption who was able to stop investigations into British Aerospace, though it was Tony Blair who said upsetting the Saudis might be bad for national security.

Something else I remember from the early 1970s was the Bishop of Blackburn and the Chief Constable of Lancashire joining forces to launch the Festival of Light and moral crusades. I don't know whether they had much influence on business and politics. The Lancashire Evening Telegraph thinks Taylor may lose his status as a freeman of Blackburn. He is also a freeman of the City of London. What may be interesting now is to go back over some of the legislation which the House of Lords has amended, and some of their rulings, seeing what interests may have been involved. It need not have been just the four involved.

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Two arrests, one detained - and Lieberman comes to London

(left) with Simone Biton,
Knesset member Charlie Biton, and Meir Vanunu (brother of Mordechai),
at Vienna conference before Amira became famous reporter. Now Amira has been arrested for "entering enemy territory"after her reporting from Gaza.

TOURISM POSTER or EXPANSIONIST PROPAGANDA ? Israeli travel poster on London Underground depicts whole of Palestine, including West Bank and Gaza, as part of the Zionist state.

NOT a bad week. Two friends arrested, another prevented from visiting his mother-in-law. And no, that isn't a joke. The Home Office announced a list of alleged extremists banned from visiting Britain, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office hosted an undoubted extremist for talks. Then the London Underground - that's the tube system, not a resistance movement - found itself involved...
Amira Hass is a courageous woman, a much-admired and respected journalist. An Israeli who has lived among Palestinians in both Gaza and Ramallah, getting to know them and their struggles first-hand. Amira's upbringing provided a motivation to reinforce her determination. Her father was a Romanian Jew who survived the Nazi death camps. Her mother, a Sefardi from Sarajevo, was with the Yugoslav partisans, and also experienced Bergen-Belsen camp.

"Because of my parents' history they knew what it meant to close people behind barbed-wire fences in a small area", Amira wrote in January, of the Gaza onslaught, recalling how her mother and father had known what it was to feel helpless to protect small children, and how they hated the sound of military jets overhead. ". . How lucky it is that they are not alive to see how how these incarcerated people are bombarded with all the glorious military technology of Israel and the United States".
Lucky my parents aren't alive to see this, Amira Hass, Ha'aretz, January 26.

The journalist became news herself last week, as her newspaper Ha'aretz reported:

Haaretz reporter Amira Hass arrested upon leaving Gaza
By Haaretz Service

Israel Police on Tuesday detained Haaretz correspondent Amira Hass upon her exit from the Gaza Strip, where she had been living and reporting over the last few months.

Hass was arrested and taken in for questioning immediately after crossing the border, for violating a law which forbids residence in an enemy state. She was released on bail after promising not to enter the Gaza Strip over the next 30 days.

Hass is the first Israeli journalist to enter the Gaza Strip in more than two years, since the Israel Defense Forces issued an entry ban following the abduction of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit in a 2006 cross-border raid by Palestinian militants.

Last December, Hass was arrested by soldiers at the Erez Checkpoint as she tried to cross into Israel after having entered the Gaza Strip aboard a ship run by peace activists from Europe.

Upon discovering that she had no permit to be in Gaza, the soldiers transferred her to the Sderot police.

When questioned, Hass pointed out that no one had stopped her from entering the Strip, which she did for work purposes.

Hass was released then under restriction, and Nahmani said her case would be sent to court.

Israel Press Council chairwoman Dalia Dorner, a former Supreme Court justice, commented then that even journalists are subject to the law and the council cannot defend a reporter who breaks the law. Instead, she said, local journalists ought to petition the High Court of Justice against the army's order.

Others were less subservient to the dictates of Israel's military. As the Palestinian News Agency WAFA reported:
Reporters Without Borders condemned, today, Israeli newspaper reporter Amira Hass’s arrest at the Erez border crossing yesterday as she returned to Israel after spending four months in the Gaza Strip reporting for the Israeli daily Haaretz in violation of a military ban on Israeli citizens visiting the Palestinian Territory.

“Her arrest is disturbing,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Hass clearly violated Israeli law by residing in the Gaza Strip for four months, but Israel’s blanket ban on Israeli citizens entering the occupied Palestinian Territories obstructs the work of its journalists and violates press freedom.”

Hass told Reporters Without Borders that the Israeli police arrested her at about 4:00 p.m. yesterday as she was leaving the Gaza Strip on a charge of “illegally entering enemy territory.” With her lawyer and the newspaper’s deputy editor present, she was questioned for three hours but limited her answers to confirming her identity.

She said she was finally released on condition that she would not try to reenter the Gaza Strip by any means or route. But she added that “the ban is only valid for 30 days.”

Hass entered the Gaza Strip by the southern Rafah border crossing at her newspaper’s request four months ago and wrote many stories about the impact of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead (from 27 December to 18 January) on the territory’s population.

From the "only democracy in the Middle East" to the home of the Mother of All Parliaments, where government spent millions urging us to shop our neighbours if they were claiming too much in welfare benefits, and we now learn MPs have been milking the expense system to pay for everything from candy bars to country houses. But amid the daily revelations, we got the news that the Home Secretary was releasing a list of banned extremists, ranging from Muslim preachers to an American "shock-jock", who would not be allowed to enter Britain to stir up hatred. Then on Wednesday, the Foreign Secretary David Miliband entertained an extremist who has called for execution of Arab members of the Knesset, ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, bombing Egypt's Aswan dam, and use of nuclear weapons on Gaza. His party says Palestinians must not be allowed to commemorate the Nkba, the loss of their country.

Every country has its Nazi nutters, but Russian-born Avigdor Lieberman has been elected and brought into government, and the Netanyahu government has appointed him Foreign Secretary. Along with Netanyahu's declared opposition to a Palestinian state, that might be taken as an "up yours" to the so-called "international community"; but the West keeps letting Israel get away with murder, postponing the "two-state solution" from basis for negotiation to unreachable future, while pretending it is still on the table. So unlike the way Palestinians were punished with sanctions for voting in Hamas, so that even a youth football team could not obtain visas to train and play in Britain, make-believe Miliband agreed to meet Lieberman to discuss, as a Foreign Office spokesperson put it, "aspects of mutual interest, including the Middle East peace process and Iran". What mutual interest? Lieberman has rejected any "peace process", and wants war with Iran.

The Israeli minister's visit had been kept quiet right up to the last minute, and no communique was to be issued after the talks. But on the Tuesday evening, hearing that he had been invited to a reception with heads of the Jewish National Fund (JNF),the main Zionist fundraising outfit, Jewish peace activists managed to trace the Hampstead venue and turn up to demonstrate. The JNF,described in the Guardian as a "humnitarian and environmental charity", was founded to assist Jewish settlement in Palestine, and been kept going since the Israeli state was established 61 years ago, not only as a means of raising funds but because it could exclude Arab farmers and workers from its land, and eradicate trace of former villages, while the State and governments denied official discrimination. Lieberman would be less hypocritical. But Gordon Brown meanwhile is a registered patron of the JNF,which is a registered British charity.

As guests arrived at the home of JNF chairman Samuel Hayek, some demonstrators threw bagels (stale I hope) at them. Protesters denounced Lieberman as a racist, and compared him with the fascist BNP. Lieberman’s security guards delayed his arrival until the demonstration had been dispersed by police. Demonstrators who refused to move away sat down, but police waded in and forcibly dragged them away. Debbie Fink, who had remained standing with the banner of Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods was arrested, and taken away in handcuffs. Debbie, an operatic singer and music teacher was held overnight at Holborn police station, before being released on bail. I understand she may be charged with assaulting two police officers.

On Wednesday morning demonstrators were kept well away from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office where Lieberman was, and police confiscated a loud-hailer after threatening to arrest the persons using it. A visiting Israeli national who resides in Brussels could not understand why we were caged behind a metal barrier. He thought the police in London seemed much more hostile than those he was used to in Belgium. He had heard about the man killed at the G20 protests. He was baffled when I told him that some of the Left in Britain were campaigning in the Euro-elections as though they thought our problems came from Brussels.
Meanwhile, I had just heard from a young chap I know whose charming wife is Palestinian. Asa, a decent and pleasant fellow who has worked with the International Solidarity Movement, helping people like those at Bil'in, said: "I am stuck in Al Quds (Jerusalem) for two days only, due to Zionist diktat. I have been blocked from Ramallah, my wife's home town, and blocked from visiting my mother-and brothers-in-law. Apologies to all my Palestinian friends who I will not be allowed to visit".

Why is he being blocked? It cannot be for carrying anything dangerous or contraband because then he would not have been allowed into Israel. Surely the Israeli authorities do not honestly believe that otherwise docile Palestinians would be content to be dominated by the Israeli occupation, if not suddenly stirred to unrest by a visit from this dangerous young Welshman? It's a wonder they did not stop the Pope! But no, as with the Israeli official who refused to allow a Birmingham delegation through with children's books, it's a case of not allowing anybody or anything that might make life more pleasant, and doing whatever we can to be awkward bastards, because we can do.

That Birmingham delegation included an MP, by the way, And since the Israeli occupation is not recognised by Britain, or anybody else, and the roadblocks are illegal, Her Brittanic Majesty's government, as represented by David Miliband, ought to have said something about British passport holders not being allowed through without let or indrance. But so far as I know it hasn't.

Propaganda aimed at legitimising the Occupation is not always announced as political. London Underground has in the past refused to take advertising which it considered too controversial, but posters have recently appeared on tube stations advertising Israel as a tourist destination. The map on the advert depicts Israel as incorporating the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights. Thus Palestine is wiped off the map. And no need for talks with Syria over the Golan - it is part of Israel, and that's that.

If you don't think the Israeli government should be allowed to get away with this propaganda on London Underground you could write to London Underground, the Advertising Standards Agency and CBS Outdoors – the company which manages the poster sites. For a suggested draft letter and more information and addresses, see the Palestine Solidarity Campaign site:

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Sunday, May 03, 2009

Mayday! Mayday! Middle East....but where is solidarity?

RED flags were flying in the streets of Gaza, and in the southern districts of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, to celebrate May Day, and international workers solidarity. Thousands joined the Gaza march called by three left-wing Palestinian organisations, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine(PFLP), the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine(DFLP), and the Palestine People's Party(PPP).

Held on Thursday to avoid the Muslim sabbath on Friday, the Gaza demonstration was a powerful sign of defiance and belief in a better future, in an area devastated by Israel's military onslaught and still suffering the blockade. Many of the young people marching for this Workers Day have grown up in refugee families and had little opportunity to do paid work. Those who can seize any chance to study, but have seen colleges bombed, and have little chance to pursue their careers, or develop their society as they would wish. But they won't give up.

A report from Maan news agency notes that on the same day as the march, two workers were killed in a tunnel collapse near Rafah. Because of the siege maintained by both Israeli and Egyptian forces, people are using tunnels to smuggle in food, fuel, and other goods. Tens have been killed whether by accidents or Israeli and Egyptian attacks, on the pretext of preventing arms smuggling. But "Work in the tunnels is one of the few job opportunities in the Gaza Strip," Maan says. "According to the Palestinian Chamber of Commerce in Gaza the unemployment rates in the Gaza Strip have reached 65 per cent, and poverty is now 80 per cent., due to the ongoing Israeli-led siege and repeated assaults. The number of unemployed in the Gaza Strip is about 200,000.

"Many children and young men participated, but unfortunately almost no women", Maan notes. ". The supporters of the three different parties were marching all together, without forming separate blocks, giving a clear sign of unity of the left and of the Palestinians in general". Speakers from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine have called on the leaders of the two main Palestinian parties, Hamas and Fatah, to sop putting their rivalry in front of the struggle for their people's rights.

Maybe the Gaza May Day march is also a sign the Left here should consider. We don't have to endorse the programme of the PFLP or other groups to recognise and salute their courage and dedication in raising the Red Flag and inspiring their people's vision amid the ruins and continuing battle to survive. Yet while Israel and its Western allies have been guilty of refusing to recognise the democratically elected Hamas, too many on our side seem either forgetful or ignorant that there is anything to its Left. From what I saw of the Gaza May Day demo on film there was not a green Hamas flag to be seen.

If women in Gaza's conservative and macho environment felt deterred from participating in May Day, their sisters in Israel were coming under direct attack. Police raided the homes of members of the feminist New Profile movement on April 26, as part of a clampdown on anti-militarists timed for the eve of the country's memorial day. Right-wing papers accused them of assisting draft resisters. Women were arrested and
had computers seized. Protesters in Tel Aviv were assaulted, and more arrests made.

Nevertheless - and perhaps spurred on by the attack, Arab and Jewish communists and other left-wingers joined the May Day march through south Tel Aviv and Jaffa. As well poor conditions, these streets are being targeted by right-wing racists who want to drive out Palestinians, and who are encouraged by the far Right taking its place in government. So this was a timely demonstration of solidarity.

May Day was also the day when people from the village of al-Ma'sara and neighbouring villages in Bethlehem area marched in protest against Israel's Apartheid Wall, which encroaches on their land and isolates their villages. Their demonstration and Workers Day festival was organised by the popular committees of al Ma'sara and Bethlehem district, in cooperation with the Bethlehem branch of the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU).

Israeli Occupation forces attacked the demonstration, firing on the crowd with tear gas, sound bombs and rubber coated steel bullets. Nine people were injured, among them the head of the PGFTU, Shaher Sa'ad. Soldiers arrested ŒAzmi Sheukhi from Hebron, Mustafa Fawagreh from Um Salamoneh and Muhammed Brajiya, Mahmoud Zawahreh, Hasan Brajiya, all members of the popular committee in al Ma'sara. They are still held in prison.

This continues the escalation implemented over the last months by the Occupation forces against those resisting the Wall, which has lead to increased arrests, injuries and deaths. Several weeks ago, Bassem Abu Rahmeh was shot and killed in the village of Bil'in, and last week, 37 people were injured in similar protests. Ni¹linat Nilin. The PGFTU is calling on the international trade unions to take action and show solidarity with Palestinian villagers and trade unionists..

Repression on May Day is also reported from Iran. A correspondent says police attacked people who had gathered in Tehran's Park Laleh for a May Day rally, before they had even begun chanting any slogans. Several demonstrators reportedly had bloodied faces. More than 150 people were arrested, some of them sent to Evin prison, others detained at police stations throughout the capital.

Security forces also raided the homes of some known civil rights campaigners, taking away computers and CDs, books and private papers. Jelveh Javahri’s mother, whose daughter was held in custody, said “I had the key. When I entered my house I saw them putting anything available into some sacks. They took everything, even Jelveh’s and Kaveh’s university diplomas. They told my daughter to go with them to answer some simple questions. But my girl resisted. She told them that they must have a legal order to arrest her. So the security forces called, three big men came and took Jelveh with themselves with the use of force and violence. Kaveh was made to have handcuffs. I told them that you are putting handcuffs on the hands of freedom.”

While reading this report from Tehran, I was thinking about the disgraceful decision by the Stop the War Coalition (STWC) at its conference,on April 25, to continue excluding Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI) from affiliating. Apparently one bright spark supporting the STWC leadership's line suggested that if people wanted to protest against the Iranian regime they should go to Tehran to do so.

HOPI, many of whose supporters are seasoned left-wing Iranian militants in exile, is opposed to the Islamicist regime and opposed to imperialist war threats and sanctions against Iran. Its "Smash the Sanctions" leaflet says "sanctions hurt ordinary people, not the rich and powerful". It points to Microsoft,Yahoo and Paltalk refusing to serve Iran, and making it harder for Iranian students, workers and political activists to communicate and access the Internet, whereas the regime has little problem.

This was underlined this week when we learned that Facebook too, which claims to want everyone to communicate freely, is refusing to accept 'friends' from Iran, because the country is on the US government's blacklist. (Compare with the way American lawyers shout "discrimination" or worse when unions propose to boycott Israel!) At this rate, reports like I quoted about May Day in Tehran will be harder to come by. President Ahmadinejad must be grateful to the US government and companies that are helping him shut up the opposition. But at the STWC conference people were arguing that if you criticise Iranian repression you make the case for sanctions and war! No wonder Stop the War has increasing difficulty opposing the British government's policies. Its leadership shares their level of thinking!

So workers in Iran, and the Middle East, have to contend with three hostile and oppressive forces:
- The US-led imperialists and Israeli militarists.
- The corrupt local rulers and reactionary clerics
- And the stupidity and ignorance among Western lefts and peace campaigners who are supposed to be their friends.

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Saturday, May 02, 2009

Visteon workers claim Victory - though not yet jobs and pensions

VISTEON workers displaying their banner in Trafalgar Square on May Day. The same day came news that their struggle had won a result.
Here's the website of Unite the union, to which most belong:

Visteon workers win justice - and show fighting back works

1st May 2009

The dramatic fight for justice for 610 Visteon workers is on the brink of settlement with the tabling of a new and vastly improved offer by the company to the workers. The workers, members of Unite the union, were sacked last month with only minute's notice, in the process denied their rightful redundancy pay and their pensions hit.

Since then the workers, supported fully by Unite, have led a high profile fight-back for just compensation, including the right to be considered for jobs at Ford, the former employer of the vast majority of the workforce.



Until 2000, Visteon was part of Ford. The motor giant hived off this parts manufacture to a new company, at the same time assuring workers their contracts still stood, including their length of service, and pensions. Somehow Visteon did not appear to do well, but kept going. Then Ford started finding other suppliers. And on March 31, this year, Visteon workers were told the company was going into administration, and given just six minutes notice to leave - without their pay, let alone redundancy money or pension entitlements.

The Visteon workers in Belfast, Basildon, and Enfield, north London, occupied the plants. The Enfield workers ended their occupation after a court order, on union advice, but carried on picketing to oppose removal of equipment or assets. Visteon workers also picketed Ford motor showrooms, urging people not to buy Ford until the company honoured its responsibility to workers. They turned to the wider labour movement for support, and on May Day in London they took their place proudly in the march with the Ford Dagenham shop stewards banner right behind them. Visteon workers who spoke from the plinth were loudly cheered.

The same day came the news that negotiations had brought a result.


TGWU Unite secretary Tony Woodley said:
"This is a tremendous victory for these workers, and a demonstration to workers everywhere that when you fight for justice you can win. The deal now on the table is a massive improvement from where we started, which was 610 men and women thrown on the dole with only the expectation of basic state redundancy pay. By going beyond even what Ford workers themselves can expect in redundancy pay, Visteon has acknowledged the loyalty and commitment this workforce has shown towards both the company and to Ford before that.

"It can never replace their jobs, or alter the fact that 610 people have lost their jobs and their pensions have been hit, but it will provide these workers with compensation for the abysmal treatment they suffered and some security as they rebuild their working lives. This should send a message to employers everywhere - you will not get away with treating our members like cannon fodder."

Derek Simpson, joint general secretary of Unite, said: “This is a proud moment for these workers and their union. It shows that even in the bleakest of circumstances, if you stand up to defend what is right you will very often win.

"The support for these workers and their cause has been astonishing - the British people recognise when a wrong has been committed and they wanted it put right.

"Ultimately, Visteon and Ford accepted that they could not wash their hands of these workers and have gone a long way towards doing the decent thing by the workers and their families.

"We are confident that this dispute will now be settled in an orderly fashion and the workers will receive their compensation as quickly as possible."

The proposed settlement deal will see a considerable lift in the redundancy package offered to workers with long service and who previously worked for Ford. Some 510 out of the 610-strong workforce are former Ford employees. For those workers with shorter service, they can expect to receive ten times what they would have received in statutory redundancy pay. Ford has also agreed to give preferential treatment to former Visteon workers who may apply for work at Ford's UK plants in the future.

The new offer will be put to the workers in the coming days with Unite's joint negotiating committee recommending to members that they accept the deal. Following any agreement of the deal by the workforce, the pickets will withdraw from the plants.

The Morning Star said the Visteon workers had won a "stunning victory".

."We've beaten Ford and we've beaten Visteon," declared Sharon Steele, one of the sacked workers at the Enfield plant, as a vote was being taken last night on accepting the offer. Former Belfast Visteon worker Gerry Campbell pointed out that "the workers had nothing five weeks ago and, if they hadn't fought, they would still have nothing, but this is a major win."

The Star also noted that Basildon Labour MP Angela Smith had asked for an inquiry into how Ford had used the parts company, which kept reporting a deficit, pretending it had nothing to do with Visteon even though the workers' ID cards bore the Ford logo.

Haringay Trades Union Council's Keith Flett observes that, rather than rely on the Labour government to do anything for them, workers had taken action and turned to fellow-trade unionists for support.

Without drawing too much from this one case, the Visteon workers have contributed to a revival in trade union confidence and awareness, which in turn will raise the need for political expression.


'We can't bring my son back - but we can fight for the living'

BALOONS go up above Tower Hill to remember workers killed in construction.
Union fears their number may soar, as firms try to cut corners in recession.

Outside HSE, civil servant union reps with Construction Safety Campaigners and on right, Linda Whelan, whose son Craig was killed in a site explosion.

IT'S been a busy week, with some sombre reflections, but the weather was bright for it, and so was at least one piece of news for this weekend. The watchword connecting us was SOLIDARITY!

A week ago, a march and rally-cum-fete in the Islington/Kings Cross area of London celebrated the 175th anniversary of the Great Demonstration when 100,000 working people gathered at Copenhagen Fields to demand release of the six Tolpuddle Martyrs, transported to slave labour in Australia for trying to form an agricultural workers' trade union.

Yesterday, we marked May Day with the traditional march and rally in Trafalgar Square. There were Iranian left-wing exiles and Iraqis, Turkish workers and Tamils, the latter calling for an end to the Sri Lankan government's onslaught on their people. Spiky haired youths and white haired pensioners marched and mingled together. Postal workers marched opposing privatisation of Royal Mail, and workers from Visteon who had been occupying their plants protested the theft of their jobs, pay and pensions.

By the end of the day, we had some good news. The unions representing the Visteon workers reported victory in the fight for decent redundancy terms at least.

Between weekends, on Tuesday, it was International Workers Memorial Day,April 28,when we remember those killed or injured in workplace accidents, or because of industrial hazards, and pledge to fight for the living. Various activities were arranged around Britain. In London, we gathered on Tower Hill, by the memorial to the Unknown Building Worker, where wreaths were laid, and black balloons released for those who have lost their lives - 72 in the building industry in the past year. We marched behind the banner of the Construction Safety Campaign and several unions, pausing at a McAlpine site where two were killed recently, before going on the Health and Safety Executive offices, where some staff were waiting to greet us. Then on to a rally by City Hall.

Among the speakers who made an impression was Linda Whelan - not a union leader or political figure, in the usual sense, but a mother who had journeyed down from Crook, Co.Durham, to tell us about her son Craig. Her boys had been brought up to be hard-working and independent. Craig was away from home, in Nottingham, but always kept in touch. He was only 23 when he was sent to work on a contract at Carnaud Metal Box, in Bolton. Craig and his workmate, Paul Wakefield, were killed by a fireball in a chimney they they were dismantling.

It was on May 23 2002. Rather than go to the trouble of erecting scaffolding to take down the chimney from the outside, the company had decided it would be cheaper to do it from inside. There were warnings of potentially explosive chemicals being present on the site, but the firm still sent Craig and his workmate back into the chimney to use cutting equipment.

As a result of the fatal explosion, three managers at the firm were charged with corporate manslaughter but in the end received only a fine. Seven years later, Linda is still fighting for justice for Craig, but also for others. At a meeting in the Manchester Hazards Centre she helped launch Families Against Corporate Killing, FACK.
"We can't bring Craig back but we can fight in the hope that we can save someone else's life."

See also:

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