Sunday, February 28, 2010

Notting Hill but not much trust

STRIKES are breaking out in what would once have seemed the least likely places. For instance, Notting Hill Housing Trust, founded in 1963, "aims to improve the lives of homeless, poorly housed and vulnerable people across London".

It's part of the voluntary sector, esteemed by the public to do good work. If you went to work there when people you knew were getting good money in the banks and property, you could probably tell yourself you'd derive job satisfaction as part of a team relieving some of the misery they caused.

But just because you work for a charity doesn't mean you can afford to be one. People working in the voluntary sector also have to worry about the cost of living and having somewhere to live. Caring for others, they may also have family members to care for. Meanwhile, as the voluntary sector takes on more of the functions that local government is shedding, and bids competitively for the contracts, those in charge seem to be awarding themselves bigger salaries, just like the private sector, while telling those beneath them they have got to do more for less, to compete. Dedication and team spirit start to wear thin.

It happened in Shelter, and now it seems to be happening in the Notting Hill Housing Trust. Last year staff voted overwhelmingly to have a ballot, so they could vote on whether to strike. Ballot papers went out last week, and nearly 57 per cent of the Unison members at Notting Hill Housing Group voted. More than 93 per cent of them voted for strike action. A date for the strike will be set in the next few weeks.

Mary Powell, Unison Housing Associations branch secretary, said: ‘Notting Hill is one of a number of London-based housing associations which has imposed cuts to terms and conditions on its staff, or is threatening to do so. Such cuts come at a time when the need for quality social housing is greater than ever. Staff are expected to deliver a high standard of customer service whist seeing their own conditions of employment eroded. Low morale will only increase staff turnover to the detriment of services.’

‘It is highly unusual for Unison members in London housing associations to take industrial action, however NHHT has left its staff with little choice. The ballot result is clear.’

‘The employer does still, however, have an opportunity to return to the negotiating table so long as they genuinely want to reach an agreement.’

A spokesperson for Notting Hill said it was sorry that ‘some people feel this way’ but that it respected their right to take action. She added that the majority of staff ‘have chosen to sign their contracts and move forward’.

‘We will do our absolute best to make sure that any form of industrial action does not disrupt our services to residents,’ she added. ‘It is essential that we transform our business to improve our customer service and change is an inevitable part of this process.’

The change which Notting Hill had proposed would abolish paid carers’ leave. The union also said the landlord was planning for staff redeployed to a lower-paid job to receive their original salary for six months rather than the current two years and relocation allowances would last for three months rather than a year. Flexitime, where staff have a contractual right to accrue overtime and take it as leave, would be replaced with flexible working, where staff must apply to managers to change their hours.

The association had considered extending working hours from 35 to 37 a week without extra pay but the board ruled out the idea. However it planned to implement the other changes without negotiating with the union, Unison said.

Unison said carers’ leave cost Notting Hill a total of £30,000 in 2008 and its abolition combined with the end of flexitime, would have a disproportionate impact on female staff with caring responsibilities. It said cuts in salary protection and relocation allowances were ‘a cynical attempt to cut employment protection measures in advance of likely restructures and office moves’.

A Notting Hill employee, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: ‘People are willing to make changes if it is necessary but there’s been no negotiation so it is demoralising. The way it has been put forward people feel they are being told they are not working hard enough. It seems the hardest hit are families and carers. Carers’ leave had such a small financial impact on the company that we cannot understand why they would want to get rid of it.’

Notting Hill chair Paul Hodgkinson is also a trustee of Parenting UK, a membership body for organisations which support parents.

Tenants and people in the labour movement in west London are concerned at what part voluntary sector charities may play in Tory-run Hammersmith and Fulham council's plans to get rid of some housing estates. A council representative has been abroad meeting property developers to offer them the advantages of "regeneration" in the west London borough.

As for Notting Hill Housing management's attitude to unions, John Gray, a fairly moderate member of Unison and the Labour Party, wrote to Notting Hill's Chief Executive Officer Kate Davies, who has also been a housing adviser to Blair and the Labour Party, expressing shock at the imposition of conditions, without negotiation with the union. "The refusal to agree to allow trade union representation to your board is even more utterly inexplicable. It makes people wonder what on earth you have got to hide? While the failure to agree to even trying to seek arbitration through ACAS is just utterly appalling and deeply damaging."

"Don't I know you?" (or what Katie did)

ONE of my old colleagues from Lambeth trade union council, who went to a meeting about housing, thought one of the speakers seemed strangely familiar from a while back. She was billed as Kate Davies, chief executive of Notting Hill Housing, and before that a Labour Party adviser on housing.


"Didn't you used to be Kate Marshall of the RCP?", he eventually managed to ask. Somehow he had the feeling that this discomforted her.

The Revolutionary Communist Party(RCP), originating in a split from the Socialist Workers' Party, and dubbed at one time "The SWP with hair gel", became a source of wonder on the Left for the ease with which it found ultra-radical sounding arguments to abandon left-wing positions, on issues like trade union political funds or privatisation during the Thatcher years, eventually discovering - ahead of, or at least parallel with Tony Blair - that the class struggle was finished. It's glossy magazine Living Marxism was re-titled LM , and started being sold in posher neighbourhoods, though eventually losing a libel action arising from its skepticism on Bosnian atrocities. The RCP officially dissolved itself, since when leading members seem to have found themselves quite nice jobs in academe and the media.

An ex-RCP comrade who did not get rid of his working class affinities to rise with the leaders remembers that Kate Davies did use to go by the name Kate Marshall, "though her actual name was Barlow, and she married a chap called John Davies, who was in the RCP. ...She became the General Secretary when the group decided to have such a position, but she drifted away from the RCP sometime in the mid-1980s, as far as I know out of politics altogether, as did her other half".

According to Craig Murray, Davies switched partners, to a chap called Nick Johnson, who works for the Commission on Racial Equality. They have a home in Sussex Gardens, and she earns more than him, about £113,000 a year plus benefits, a couple of years ago.

NB - Two readers contacted me to say the Nick Johnson upon whom we gave details is the wrong one. (see comments) Apparently Kate Davies' partner of that name works for Tory Hammersmith and Fulham council, and unusually for a full-time officer, has acted as a spokesman for council policy.

Because some of the other old RCPers still hang together and look after each for speaking engagements, interviews and so forth, there's a school of thought -particularly among Greens whom they have attacked - that the group is still pursuing its own peculiar "marxist" agenda,sans proletariat, but practising deep-level entryism. They also point to various alleged "front organisations" (such as the Institute of Ideas, whence came Mayor Boris Johnson's cultural adviser, Munira Mirza).

I very much doubt it, and I am sure Kate Davies is not part of any such strategy. In fact, contrary to suggestions that Notting Hill Housing Trust was even controlled by the Labour Party, I see that it has been praised by west London's Tory Boy himself, Harry Phibbs, once a wild man of the Federation of Conservative Students and now a Hammersmith and Fulham councillor and pillar of the Tory party's Home and Social Affairs Unit.

In return, Kate Davies has sung the praises of Boris Johnson for his dedication to home ownership, as the basis of housing policy.

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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Good news: Behnam can stay!

BEAUTY from an artist under threat. Mirror, Butterflies and Freedom stepping from behind bars with peace dove.

NOT often we get a bit of good news to wite about in this blog, but I'm pleased to be able to pass some on.
The Home Office has relented and agreed that young Iranian artist Behnam Askari, his mother Masoumeh, and his younger brother, Behrad, have indefinite leave to stay in Britain.

The family had come here for his father's job, but when Dad returned to Tehran on a visit he was arrested.

Fortunately he managed to get a message warning them not to return. The Iranian authorities had arrested two students who had been staying at the family flat, for possessing anti-government leaflets, and decided it was a conspiracy. Behnam and his mother faced flogging and jail if they returned to Iran.

The British authorities did not seem concerned about the consequences of sending them back.

Staff and students at Behnam's school, Quintin Kyneston, in north-west London, protested on the family's behalf. One of his teachers, Pauline, took retirement , but carried on campaigning.
Behnam, winning a place at St.Martin's school of art, carried on painting, and his art was exhibited as part of the campaign.

Friends raised funds, and collected signatures on petitions.

So congratulations to Behnam and his mom, and to friends like Pauline who persisted in campaigning. You got a good result. And showed people can win.

And to keep up with the creative side:

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Croatia to Bolivia, via Ireland ?

liked guns, and guns finished him -at 24.

fought and killed in Croatia, became hero of Right in Hungary, his death in Bolivia may have been rough justice, but it was justice none the less.

Murder as a multi-national business

PEOPLE are still asking how the Israeli hit-team in Dubai was able to use three Irish passports as well as British ones, but some people are also asking about an "Irish connection" with a right-wing separatist conspiracy in BOLIVIA.

Almost a year ago. on April 16, 2009, a young Irishman called Michael Dwyer was shot dead in a Santa Cruz hotel room by Bolivian police pursuing plotters responsible for a bomb attack on a cardinal, and allegedly planning to kill President Evo Morales. Santa Cruz is the wealthiest province in Bolivia, with big natural gas resources. Right-wing rebels want to detach it from the Morales regime's plans to help the country's indigenous poor, or to overthrow the regime altogether.

The Bolivian government is also struggling with the multinational companies like Shell Petroleum over its efforts to make the country's resources serve the people.

Before he went to Bolivia, Michael Dwyer was employed by a company called Integrated Risk Management Services (IRMS), based at Naas, Co.Kildare, which among other things works with the Garda providing security for Shell's Corrib gas project pipeline and the landfall at Glengad beach in Erris, County Mayo, which attracts environmental protests. Complaints have been made about security men not wearing proper identification, and it was said Michael Dwyer worked as a team leader without the appropriate license from the Private Security Authority.

There have been complaints too about rough treatment of protesters, and the sinking of a campaigner's fishing boat, though of course the company denies any part in this (and the incident happened after Michael Dwyer's death in Bolivia).

IRMS has links with security work in other countries, which involves providing armed personnel. Michael Dwyer had gone to Bolivia for a training course in armed guard and bodyguard work, and his parents insist their son had no interest in politics, though judging by various photographs that have appeared he was certainly interested in firearms.

Dwyer may have been influenced by another IRMS employee, Tibor Revesz, a founder of the Szekler Legion, right-wing Hungarian nationalists who say they are fighting for autonomy for Magyars in Romania. An ad on their website asked for volunteers to help the fight for Santa Cruz. On November 17 2008, Dwyer reportedly travelled out with Revesz, and two other Hungarians, both former IRMS staff. Another man he had met in Ireland, Elod Toaso, was also arrested in Bolivia.

But the leader of the group, also shot dead in the hotel incident, was Eduardo Rózsa-Flores, who was born in Bolivia but spent much of his younger life in Hungary, where his father had come from. He was even a Young Communist at university. But after this he took up journalism, beginning with the Cuban news agency Prensa Latina, before using his Spanish fluency to send items to the BBC Spanish service, and then going to work for the Barcelona paper La Vanguardia , as a correspondent from Eastern Europe.

About this time he also joined Opus Dei, the right-wing Catholic society, having previously been a member of the Budapest Jewish community (his mother was Jewish) and later he was to announce his conversion to Islam, possibly with a view to work in Iraq. By then he had changed his trade from mere journalism.

Reporting the war in ex-Yugoslavia, he volunteered to join Croatian forces, raising an "international brigade" of a hundred volunteers and mercenaries, who fought at Osijek and Vukovar. Franjo Tudjman promoted him major, and he went on to become a colonel,of "special forces".

Christian Wurtenberg, a Swiss journalist,decided to join Flores' outfit to investigate rumours of drug and gun-trafficking, and to get the low-down on fascists and mercenaries, and who was paying them. Unfortunately, after a few weeks among them, he let a Spanish TV reporter in on what he was doing, and said he would soon be going back to Switzerland.

Days later, the Spanish reporter, Julio Cesar Alonso and a Portuguese televeision reporter, Joso Pinto Amaral, were taken from Zagreb's Hotel Intercontinental to the headquarters of the Croatian secret police, and interrogated. Flores then said there was a Swiss mole in his organisation who was going to be "got rid of".

The reporters travelled to Osijek hoping to tip off Wurtenburg, only to be met by Flores who told them with a grin "By the way, we've got a loss - Christian. The Swiss problem has been sorted out." According to the autopsy at the Osijek hospital, Christian Wurtenberg "was killed on 6 January 1992 as a result of mechanical action with a blunt weapon and later strangulation with hands and rope". Flores claimed later that Wurtenberg was murdered by "Chetniks" (Serbs) but strangling was not their usual method -prisoners more often had their throats cut.

Wurtenberg's computer went missing and his diary was returned to his family with vital pages ripped out. On 13 January, British photographer Paul Jenks and a colleaugue Hassan Amini, visited Flores' unit o ask questions about what had happened to Wurtenberg. The man they met was Stephen "Frenchie" Hannock who, in response to Jenk's persistent questions said "who knows ... who cares. I dont, for one and I know a lot more than you."

Four days later Paul Jenks was shot through the head at the front line in Briest, near Osijek. Officially he was killed by a Serbian sniper hidden some 900 metres away in the Serbian held village of Tenski-Antunovac, but the indications were that the range was far shorter than 900 metres, and the bullet did not enter his head from the direction of the sniper. It's thought that Flores' unit had offered to escort the British photographer to the front, then shot him at close range. A BBC TV documentary sought to establish that the identity of his suspected killer was known and that he was still at liberty.

"Germany's Secret Balkan's Plan" SEARCHLIGHT July 1992
Journalists from across Europe have wanted to lift the lid on the freelance killers operating in Croatia. For Christian Wurtenberg and Paul Jenks, ...

See also:

Eduardo Flores went on to write books and become a celebrity on the Hungarian Right, and has had glowing obituaries from people like the fascist Jobbik organisation, which has also been organising in Britain. The Bolivian police may not have smashed the conspiracy yet. But perhaps they have achieved a sort of justice for Paul Jenks and Christian Wurtenburg

The Irish government has demanded an international inquiry into the death of Michael Dwyer. But on November 20, Bolivian organisations delivered a letter to the Irish Foreign Affairs ministry in Dublin, asking for a full public investigation into the work of Integrated Risk Management Services, and rightwing terrorist groups in Europe, and the connections they have with our country, Bolivia."

There was a time when friends of mine who were entitled to both British and Irish passports said the Irish passport was very handy for travelling in places where Brits were regarded as former colonialists, even possible spies or mercenaries. Alas, when cluster bombs have been shipped through "neutral" Shannon, and Irishmen turned up in decidedly sinister company, it may no longer have an advantage or be greeted with the same friendly welcome.

Suspect awaiting extradition


POLICE in Brazil have arrested an Irishman suspected of being linked to an alleged terror plot against Bolivia’s President Evo Morales. Security services detained him on an international arrest warrant issued by Bolivian authorities as he boarded a flight to Portugal.

Yesterday the man was being held in jail in Brazil awaiting extradition to Bolivia.
He was named locally as Muhammed Jasser and described as an Irish passport holder.
Reports from Bolivia last night suggested authorities believe he was Iraqi-born and may hold dual Irish-Iraqi nationality.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

'No olive branch of peace, we're British ?' Visa ban is not fair!

THEY'VE DONE IT AGAIN. First it was a Palestinian under-19 soccer side, invited to Chester, to train with the local club and play three friendly fixtures with English teams. Everything was set up for these lads to get a break from the awful conditions in Gaza, when HM government's man refused to let them have visas.

Now we go from footballers to farmers. Palestinian farmers are proud of their produce, particularly their quality olive oil. They have been having a hard time of it, what with Israeli bulldozers tearing up olive groves in the path of the "security wall", which then prevents villagers reaching their fields, and if they do manage to get a crop, the nuisance of frequent road blocks.

So when three Palestinian farmers were invited here to attend Fair Trade fortnight it should have been a proud and happy occasion. The farmers, from newly certified co-operatives, whose olive oil is the only one in the world to bear the Fairtrade mark, had been invited by the UK social enterprise Zaytoun.

They were due to arrive this week, and would have attended events in England, Scotland and Wales, meeting potential buyers here as well as Non-Governmental Organisations with an interest in fair trade and economic development.

But this welcome development has been thwarted by the British government denying them visas.

What makes this denial even more galling, as tour supporters point out, is this report from a year ago:

'Gordon Brown said he was "delighted" by the launch, marking the start of Fairtrade Fortnight, the annual campaign urging people to buy goods with the internationally recognised mark designed to ensure producers from poorer countries get a fair price and long-term security.
Brown said: "Olive oil production provides an essential part of the West Bank economy. In buying this oil, British shoppers wil be helping the farmers of Palestine to make a living.'

This was bound to encourage optimism that the British government, if not actively helping efforts for fair trade and development for Palestinins, would at least not stand in the way. Hundreds of people have worked hard for months to organise events that would enabled these Palestinian farmers like those from elsewhere to make friendly contacts and present Palestinian Fairtrade produce.

The irony is that this blow to the Palestinians comes while people here have been waiting to see what the British government does about the misuse of British passports by a Mossad hit team in Dubai to murder a Palestinian official. Israeli produce continues to enjoy privileged access to Britain and other EU countries, and goods from illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank are on sale in British supermarkets.

With Tony Blair counting Middle East peace envoy among the most prestigious roles in his remunerative portfolio, the British government continues to insist that it believes in the so-called two-state solution, for which Israeli expansion continues to lessen the hopes and prospects. But whenever it has the opportunity to inspire confidence, and show that it means what it says, by encouraging Palestinians to make their own constructive efforts, and recognising their rightful place among nations, it does the opposite.

First, it was the football team. Now it is the farmers. Stopping them coming is also stopping us meeting and hearing from them. It is a slap in the face for the Palestinians and for all who want to see fair play, fair trade, and a genuine peace with justice.

When it happened to the football players, David Milliband was new to his job, and got away with passing on protest letters to some Foreign and Commonwealth Office official nobody had heard of, to give a reply in officialese that said nothing we understood. Now Milliband has been in the job long enough, whether or not he is any better at it, and it is time he and the government were tackled, and told to let the Palestinian farmers in!

PLEASE LOBBY your local MP. You can email them via these websites:

PLEASE CALL The FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) on 020 7008 1500

Sign the petition, let Palestinian farmers in to Fair Trade Weekend:


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Massacre in Maguindanao:

JOURNALISTS and trade unionists are often targeted by reactionary regimes and racketeers who don't want ordinary people taking an informed interest in their affairs and talking, let alone trying to do something, about who gets what, and how their countries are run.

In recent years we've seen some high-profile cases in the former Soviet Union, of reporters gunned down if they upset the kleptocrats and nationalists. But on November 23,last year the bloodiest ever slaughter of journalists in a single incident occurred in Maguindanao province, southern Philippines.

An entire election convoy of 63 people including 33 accompanying reporters and media personnel was ambushed, and everyone killed.

Human rights campaigners say enforced disappearances and political killings of trade union leaders, rights activists and journalists have spiralled in the Philippines in the last decade, mainly in the name of counterinsurgency.

They accuse the Philippine government of arming and employing poorly trained and unaccountable paramilitary groups to combat insurgent groups, and handing powers to local politicians who have acted with impunity.

The gunmen who held up the Maguindanao convoy are thought to have been working for one of these politicians and his clan, close to the government. With 2010 being the self-imposed deadline set by the Arroyo administration to end insurgency and with national elections set for 10 May, there are increased fears of further unlawful killings and disappearances.

Here in London, the International Federation of Journalists (represented in the UK by the NUJ), Amnesty International and the Campaign for Human Rights in the Philippines are holding a Joint Forum on The Maguindanao Massacre: Impunity and Political Killings in the Philippines at 6.00 pm on Wednesday 3 March 2010 at the Human Rights Action Centre 17-25 New Inn Yard, London EC2A 3EA. Invited speakers include Aiden White, General Secretary IFJ, as well as speakers from Amnesty International and other expert analysts.

They invite us to book a free place by going to

For further information contact Shane Enright, AIUK Trade Union Campaigns Manager, Email:, Tel: +44 (0) 20 7033 1569

Free food and refreshment will be served!

Wednesday, 03 March 2010

18:00 - 21:00

Amnesty International Human Rights Action Centre

17-25 New Inn Yard



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Monday, February 22, 2010

Anthrax: FBI closes case, but will questions remain open?

LETTER sent to US senator. Two postal workers killed

NINE years after the anthrax attacks in the United States which caused the deaths of five people and a national, if not global scare, the FBI has concluded that a lone "mad scientist" with a Jekyll-and-Hyde personality was to blame, and announced it was closing the case.

A 92 page report issued in Washington says the 2001 attacks were the work of Bruce E.Ivins, a biological warfare expert working for the US military at Fort Detrick, in Maryland. It refers to downloaded porn and problems with female colleagues as evidence of a disturbed personality, and cites a recorded conversation with a friend:
“If I found out I was involved in some way...” Dr.Ivins says, not finishing the sentence. “I do not have any recollection of ever doing anything like that,” ... “I can tell you, I am not a killer at heart.” And a 2008 e-mail to a former colleague, reflecting distress, “I can hurt, kill, and terrorize.”

Ivins can't answer questions about just what he meant, or how he felt about his work. He died in July 2008 of an overdose of Tylenol, while under FBI surveillance, during which his car wa tagged, and his wife and children were questioned.

The FBI believes Ivins embedded a complex coded message in the notes mailed with the anthrax, alluding to two female former colleagues with whom he was obsessed.
The report describes how an F.B.I. surveillance agent watched in 2007 as Dr. Ivins threw out a article and a book, Douglas Hofstadter’s “Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid,” that could betray his interest in codes, coming out of his house in Frederick, Md., at 1 a.m. in long underwear to make certain the garbage truck had taken his trash.

Coming amid the fever over the 9/11 attacks, and scares that something else would be attempted, anthrax fears were raised over any white powder, and some newspapers received less dangerous forms. The envelopes also contained crude notes extolling Islamic terror. But the real anthrax infected 22 people,including several postal workers, and killed five. Government offices were evacuated, and millions of dollars spent cleaning mail sorting offices.

The investigation included 10,000 interviews around the world, and media pointed to numerous countries where anthrax might be stored in laboratories. Meanwhile, in the United States, the government increased spending on "biodefense" and revived the military anthrax vaccination programme on which Dr.Irvine had been working. The anthrax scare contributed to the build up for war with Iraq, as well as the worldwide "war on terror", even though it soon became know that the anthrax strain used in the attacks was developed by the US military itself.

For a time attention turned to another scientist who had worked for the military, Dr. Steven J. Hatfill. It was revealed that Hatfill had a colourful CV. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, he grew up in Mattoon, Illinois, and in the early 1970s he studied biology at Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas. During this period, he left his studies and traveled to Kapanga, Zaire, where he worked with Dr. Glenn Eschtruth as a medical missionary. After graduating from Southwestern in 1975, Hatfill enlisted in the United States Army. In October 1976 he married Caroline Eschtruth, the daughter of his mentor.

A few months after their marriage, the mission was attacked by guerrillas from Angola, and Dr.Eschtruth was killed. In May 1978, hatfill divorced his wife, but returned to Afica, this time attending the Godfrey Huggins Medical School in White-ruled Rhodesia. While in Rhodesia, Hatfill claims to have served with the Selous Scouts, carrying out counter-insurgency raids against the African national liberation forces and their people.

In 1984 he moved to the Republic of South Africa, finding time off his medical research to join the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) or Afrikaner Resistance Movement, with its military wing Aquila. Indicating its inspiration this white supremacist movement used a flag similar to that of Nazi Germany, but with a three-pronged device in place of the swastika. This symbol became fashionable for a time with some racist groups outside South Africa.

The FBI investigators began interviewing Hatfill in 2002. They had difficulty tracing material evidence linking either him or Dr. Ivins with the anthrax attacks.
Dr.Hatfill insisted his speciality had not been anthrax but Ebola and Harburg viruses - which caused epidemics in Africa. Though Dr,Ivins had worked on anthrax, the powder used in the lethal attacks was a kind developed for aerosols, linking the anthrax itself with fine silicon particles. This work had been done after his time, and he would not have either the skills nor equipment to duplicate it. The anthrax strain was supposedly traced to a flask used by Dr.Ivins, but this contained no silicon.

Still, the FBI decided Ivins was their man soon after his suicide. The government exonerated Dr. Hatfill and agreed to a settlement worth $4.6 million to resolve a lawsuit alleging that his privacy rights had been violated.

Not everyone is satisfied that the FBI has solved the anthrax mystery. Representative Rush D. Holt, a New Jersey Democrat and a physicist who has sharply criticized the bureau’s work, said the case should not have been closed.
“Arbitrarily closing the case on a Friday afternoon should not mean the end of this investigation,” Mr. Holt said, noting that the National Academy of Sciences was still studying the F.B.I.’s scientific work. He said the F.B.I. report laid out “barely a circumstantial case” that “would not, I think, stand up in court.”

Some of Dr. Ivins’s colleagues at the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in Frederick, including several supervisors who knew him well, publicly rejected the F.B.I.’s conclusion. They said he was eccentric but incapable of such a diabolical act, and they questioned whether he could have produced the deadly powder with the equipment in his lab.

The FBI refers to “an illogical 12-point memo” written by Dr,Ivins uggesting that the two female former colleagues with whom he was obsessed might have mailed the letters. When one of the women, made aware of the memo, confronted Dr. Ivins about it in 2008, he wrote to her, blaming an alternate personality he called “ ‘Crazy Bruce,’ who surfaces periodically as paranoid, severely depressed and ridden with incredible anxiety.” He complained that “it seems as though I have been selected as the blood sacrifice for this whole thing.”

FBI declares case closed.

Doubts over Ivins' culprit

An extensive view from the wild side - conspiracy theory but with interesting facts:

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Witnessing the violence at Hebron

ISRAEL'S London ambassador Ron Prosor almost kept a straight face when he almost denied knowledge of the murder of Hamas official Mahmoud al Mabhouh in Dubai. Prosor said it was not Israeli practice to either deny or acknowledge responsibility for such operations. But then in an unofficial briefing aimed at deflating indignation over the use of British passports, we were told via Friday's Daily Mail that Mossad had given the British Foreign Office advance warning that it intended carrying out such an operation.

The FCO has dismissed this as "nonsense", though remembering how the British government denied at one time having prior warning of the bombing of the Israeli embassy in London, which it ignored, we will keep an open mind. We don't know how much MI6 tells ministers anyway. What we do know is that Israel uses assassinations and kidnappings, and counts on its allies to assist or turn a blind eye (as when Mordechai Vanunu was taken while under MI5 surveillance in London).

The people whose passports were stolen and/or copied were in Israel, and this weekend the British embassy in Tel Aviv said it had traced five of them and invited them to get new passports in place of the ones the Dubai police publicised. The names and numbers on the original British passports are the same as those used by the alleged agents. "This step will reduce the risk that these people might be inadvertently detained," said an embassy spokesman, Raffi Shamir. But a sixth man, James Clarke, who had served in the Israeli army, had apparently disappeared. Incidentally while the papers are discussing what, if anything, the British government might do, from a metaphorical slap on the wrist to expelling diplomats, I wonder if anyone has considered the appropriateness of taking away the British passport of anyone going to Israel, and serving in its armed forces?

Some people, including Jewish Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard, see nothing wrong with the murder of Mahmoud al Mabhouh, who is routinely described as a "terrorist" chief and not an official of an elected government. The Hamas official was apparently on a mission to arrange aid, and perhaps arms supplies from Iran to the Palestinians (much as Israeli and US officers arranged clandestine arms supplies to Iran during its war with Iraq). Perhaps then those approving the killing will see nothing wrong with Iranian intelligence borrowing suitable passports to assassinate those in the West who have organised, or at least aided and abetted, bombings in Iran, as well as flying munitions into Israel? As for those applauding from the United States, being fair-minded fellows they will I guess, admit Cuba's right to send a hit team into Miami (and release the five Cubans who were detained for gathering intelligence there about emigre attack plotters).

Much of this readiness to condone Israel's right to do as it likes, and be exempt from international law, rests on maintaining the myth of plucky little Israel, pursuing nothing but peace and progress, threatened on all sides by aggressive neighbours. A survey some years ago of the British public found of those who had heard the word "occupation" a sizeable percentage were not sure who was occupying whom. It may be harder to keep such ignorance when we have seen the bombs raining on Gaza. But for some people in this old colonial power, even those who resent the Israelis s crude upstarts, Arab lives don't count, especially if not attached to oil wealth (Palestinians only have olive oil, and Israeli bulldozers are even threatening that).

What is particularly missing from newspaper headlines and television coverage is the daily grind of occupation and siege, the low level violence and humiliation of roadblocks, deprivation of resources, harassment and interference with everyday life, by which Israel makes war in the name of peace against an entire people. But truth will out, despite increasing efforts to censor it, and that is why so many young people with a sense of injustice identify nowadays with the Palestinians.

Violence against shepherds

"A rise in violence against Palestinian shepherds shows settler-military collaboration," reported the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) in a report on Friday. Unlike some of the loud-mouthed and financially over-endowed Christian campaigners in the United States who only complain that the Zionist state isn't aggressive enough, the Christian Peacemakers' believe in "getting in the way" of Israeli human rights abuses. Focussing on the southern West Bank, the teams have members stationed in Hebron, and at the village of At-Tuwani, 25 kilometers south of the city. The observers said they had been notified of attacks against Palestinians by setters 19 times in the last 19 days.

A report from CPT said, "The past two weeks have seen a marked rise in settler activity outside the illegal settlements of Ma'on and the Havat Ma'on (Hill 833) outpost," citing rock throwing, intimidation, harassment, physical violence and even the abduction of a young shepherd "with the aid of the Israeli military and police."

According to the group, settlers from the Carmel colony directed soldiers to seize the goats of a 12-year-old shepherd on Friday afternoon. The boy testified to CPT field observers that soldiers walked downhill from the settlement dairy barns, grabbed his two goats, and told him, “If you want your goats back, you better come here.”

The boy said he was worried about the health of one of his goats, who is pregnant. The team was notified of the assault by another shepherd from the nearby village of Tuba, who CPT workers said had heard " the boy's shouts of panic as the Israelis grabbed him." The shepherd said he had been struck and restrained by the soldiers. Police reportedly told inquiring CPT workers that the boy had criminally trespassed on Ma'on Settlement land. "The boy reported having no idea the land was not open to everyone," the report said.

Re-open Shuhada Street!

In Hebron itself, al Khalil, people are beginning to organise for non-violent resistance to what is often a very violent occupation. Next week will see the 16th anniversary, on February 25, of the day when Baruch Goldstein, an American-born settler, wearing army uniform, opened fire with an automatic weapon in the Ibrahimi mosque, killing 29 worshippers and wounding 150, before he was overcome and killed himself.

Although the Israeli government condemned the massacre, the authorities imposed a curfew on Hebron's residents while allowing Goldstein's fellow settlers from Kiryat Arba free to move asthey pleased. Right-wing settler groups later marketed tee shirts depicting Goldstein as a hero.

Shuhada Street used to be the principal street in Hebron for Palestinians, with shops and a busy market.
Nowadays because it runs through a part of the town where settlers have established themselves, the street has been closed to Palestinian movement. Palestinian shops are shuttered, and racist graffiti has been spray painted over them. Palestinians living on the street have to enter and exit their houses through their back doors or, even sometimes by climbing over neighbor's roofs.

Campaigners in Hebron, including Youth Against Settlements, which works with Israeli peace and human rights allies, have called for an international day of action next week to back their demand to re-open Shuhada Street, both as a practical need for the town and a symbol of the fight for freedom, against occupation, separation and settlements.

On Thursday, besides a demonstration in Shuhadeh Street itself, people will be showing solidarity in Boston, USA, and in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth in South Africa. There will be demonstrations at Checkpoint Charlie, in Berlin, from noon, and outside the Israeli embassy, at 122 Pembroke Rd. in Dublin, at 5pm.
Supporters in Edinburgh are promising a street party starting 12 noon in Guthrie Street, off Chambers street.

To find out more visit:

A bit of history

According to both Jewish and Arab tradition, Hebron was the village of Abraham, the common ancestor, and in Arabic al Khalil, the friend of God, hence the Ibrahimi mosque. Before 1929 the town had an old Jewish community, but in August that year when riots broke out around Palestine, under the British Mandate, a mixture of agrarian distress and religious agitation, more than 60 Jews were massacred in Hebron. The majority of the town's Jews, numbering more than 400, were sheltered by Muslim and Christian neighbours.
But after this Jews moved out, or were moved out by the British authorities. Some families returned a couple of years later, but in 1936 the British removed them ahead of the 1936 Arab revolt.
After the Israeli occupation from 1967, the move began to establish new Jewish settlements like Kiryat Arba around Hebron, and even to move settlers into the town itself. This was spearheaded by the religious Right, though Kiryat Arba was backed by Israeli governments, including Labour.
In opposition to this, Haim HaNegbi, whose family had lived in Hebron before 1929, said he would only move back if there was peace, and if Palestinians were free to return to Jaffa. In April 1999, Hanegbi participated in a demonstration opposite the Machpela Cave in Hebron, calling for the removal of Jewish settlers from Hebron and a halt to Jewish construction in the city. Hanegbi said that as one whose father grew up in Hebron, he identified with the Palestinians and not with provocateurs such as Rabbi Moshe Levinger, who settled in the city after the 1967 War.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

But where will they go?


AFTER Stop the War Coalition convenor Lindsey German quit the Socialist Workers' Party last week, it has not taken long for the rest of her flock to follow. Around mid-day on Tuesday a letter was e-mailed to the SWP's national secretary Martin Smith. Signed by 42 SWP members, and endorsed by a further 18 who had already gone in recent weeks, it said:

"We are writing to resign from the Socialist Workers Party. We do this with great sadness but the events of recent weeks leave us with little choice.

The immediate reason for our resignation is the attempt by the Central Committee to stop Lindsey German, the convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, from speaking at a Stop the War meeting in Newcastle. This demand was justified by the claim that the meeting was ‘disputed’ or bogus. In fact, it was a properly constituted Stop the War public meeting, agreed at two consecutive Tyneside steering committees. Two SWP members tried to block the meeting because it clashed with a party branch meeting. The Stop the War meeting was a success, but was boycotted by the local SWP. The Central Committee demanded that Lindsey should not go to the meeting and ‘reserved the right’ to take disciplinary action if she attended.

"Such sectarian behaviour does enormous damage to the standing of the party in the movement. Unfortunately, it fits into what is now a well-established pattern. For many years, the SWP has played a dynamic role in the development of mass movements in Britain. The party made an important contribution to the great anti-capitalist mobilisations at the start of the decade, it threw itself into the Stop the War Coalition and was central to the Respect electoral project. These achievements were dependent on an open, non-sectarian approach to joint work with others on the left and a systematic commitment to building the movements.

The SWP leadership has abandoned this approach. The task of building broad, political opposition in every area to the disasters created by neoliberalism and war is now subordinated to short term party building. We believe this undermines both the movements and the prospects of building an open and effective revolutionary current in the British working class.

The most glaring mistake has been the SWP’s refusal to engage with others in shaping a broad left response to the recession, clearly the most pressing task facing the left. Even valuable recent initiatives, like the Right to Work campaign, have minimised the involvement of Labour MPs, union leaders and others who have the capability to mobilise beyond the traditional left.

An authoritarian internal regime has developed as a result of this change in direction. In the run up to the recent party conference, four members of the Left Platform opposition were disciplined, three of them expelled. Since the conference, four of the remaining student comrades at the School of Oriental and African studies in London have been effectively pushed out of the party. A comrade in Newcastle was given an ultimatum to resign from a key position in the local movement in January. He resigned from the party and 10 comrades left in protest at his treatment. The use of disciplinary methods to ‘win’ arguments is completely foreign to the traditions to the SWP and should have no place in the socialist movement.

For these reasons we are now submitting our resignations. We do not do so lightly and we will of course remain active socialists and revolutionaries. We all joined the party because we felt it would make us more effective. Sadly, we now feel that is no longer the case. We have, however, enormous respect for the many fine comrades in the SWP and we regard it as essential to continue to work with SWP members in the unions and campaigns, since we all share a broad agreement on the need to confront recession, war and fascism. We remain convinced of the need for revolutionary socialist organisation. In fact, the need for a radical political alternative and resistance on a massive scale has rarely been more urgent."

In January, Lindsey German told the SWP annual conference that her Left Platform (LP) faction would dissolve, that she accepted the result of debates, votes and elections, and that faction members remained loyal Party members. It has not taken long for that loyalty to be tested, and even less time for the dissolved faction members to come together for an agreed response.

But then the SWP leadership has not wasted much time with false sentimentality about old comrades or pretence of unity, as testified by long-standing central committee member and former Socialist Review editor Lindsey German, who just squeezed back onto the CC in 49th place out of 50 at the last conference, since when " … I have felt politically curtailed in recent months: all LP members who submitted journal articles had them rejected; none of us are ever commissioned to write reviews or articles in publications; I was not asked to speak at the women’s school, despite having written and spoken more on theoretical questions on women than anyone else in the party.”

On February 3, the SWP leadership demanded that Tony Dowling, a Left Platform supporter, step down from his position as Tyneside secretary of the National Shop Stewards Network for allegedly bureaucratic behaviour. Dowling quit the SWP instead, and was joined by 10 of his comrades in the area. Then Dowling and Alex Snowdon, who had already been expelled before the January conference for "factional" activity in the form of e-mails, decided to organise a Stop the War Coalition meeting in Newcastle. The SWP has been the predominant group in the leadership of Stop the War, and Lindsey German one of its best-known faces on demo platform and television, but apparently the remaining members of the SWP objected that the public meeting would clash with their branch meeting. Heaven forbid they be asked to consider switching their branch to a different night, or postponing it to focus on Stop the War, in between the Chilcott inquiry and the latest Afghan offensive.

As we know, ignoring Lindsey German's duty as Stop the War convenor, Martin Smith emailed her, ‘requesting’ her not go to, and asking her to “meet with members of the CC at the earliest possible opportunity”. Recognising the knuckles gloved in official language, -she had after all been on the Central Committee for thirty years -German decided to honour her commitment, and to save the leadership the bother of expelling her, she quit.

John Rees, whom many SWPers (and Respect members, not least those left by the departing SWP) chiefly blame for the debacle in Respect, probably figured that if Lindsey could go, there was not much chance for him. Already at the January conference he had avoided the humiliation of a low vote by not standing for the CC. So now, with the dire duo and their sixty followers gone, the SWP leadership of Martin Smith and Alex Callinicos has got rid of the opposition without either a prolonged faction fight - in which people might at least have clarified political issues - or the trouble of disciplinary proceedings.

For anyone concerned about "recession, war and fascism" , and convinced, as the faction claim to be, that "the need for revolutionary socialist organisation" has"rarely been more urgent", the question may be asked "but not as urgent as getting out of the SWP?", particularly as those leaving speak so warmly about wanting to work with the comrades they have left behind. And for both SWP members and those quitting, the question they are going to face is "what did you split over?". A commentator sympathetic to the breakaway faction refers us to the historic splits of the past, while a defender of the leadership reminds us of democratic centralism and revolutionary discipline.

Yeah, but this was a "historic" split over whether there should be a particular meeting in Newcastle one night, and the leadership exercising its authority to tell a comrade she could not go. I can see the Marxist scholars of the future debating the significance of this, if it is not settled beyond doubt. Meanwhile I suppose the documents are being translated for mass meetings of workers in Bolivia and Kazakhstan. What bigger issues have we socialists to argue about?

The word among SWP members is that Rees and German, carried away perhaps by their experience of addressing big meetings and occasionally making the media, became "movementists", belittling the role of "the Party", and thinking themelves superior to the footslogging, paper-selling rank-and-file party members. Those who have gone, on the other hand, accuse the leadership of turning away from the broader movements and being unwilling to work with other people. I notice by the way that though alluding bravely to Respect, they have nothing to say about the Socialist Alliance which they dumped in favour of it. Nor, curiously, do they mention the twice-born Anti-Nazi League, or its successor Unite Against Fascism (UAF). The latter had its conference at the weekend, and was gingerly handling a call from Brent and other areas for internal democracy and unity in the anti-fascist movement.

For many who have had experience of the SWP and its ways of working in broad movements the response towards those proclaiming the need to engage with others now will be one of skepticism, and towards both past and present leaders -a plague on both your houses. I suspect that though Smith and Callinicos may now feel they are running a tighter ship, this exodus will not be the last, as their type of "party-building" sails into a dead-end. I expect the ordinary members will find their keenness and socialist militancy welcomed into whatever areas of struggle they become involved. But for now, though Lindsey German may keep her place in the anti-war movement, I can't see where otherwise she, and even more John Rees, have got left to go.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

When your pay slip is no oil painting

SIGHTSEERS and workers taking their lunch break in London's Trafalgar Square today could be in for an extra sight event. Workers from the National Gallery are planning to walk out and hold a meeting over their campaign for a living wage.

If, like me, you ever fancied a job amid all those beautiful paintings, forget it. Unless you have another source of income. The workers in this prestigious national asset, helping look after the treasures and the tourists, include warders, retail and security staff. They are expected to look smart for the West End, and they are organised by the PCS civil service union, but like most civil servants, they are no privileged Sir Humphreys.

The Gallery has made its pay offer to staff. It would leave warders earning on average less than £15, 000 a year. Workers at the National Gallery, in the heart of the capital, looking after some of the most valuable paintings, are not even getting the London Living Wage (a princely £7.60 an hour). As the PCS leaflet says, this means they would not be able to keep up with the rising cost of living, whether fuel costs at home or fares to work.

At present some staff are having to claim benefits and tax credits to help them afford to stay in the job.
More will get into debt, or have to take second jobs, difficult if they are already depending on overtime and weekend work to earn a living wage.

Although I've never worked in a gallery or museum, I have worked long shifts on low pay in uniform, looking after prestiguous office blocks and government buildings. So I am saluting the staff at the National Gallery who are taking action for all low paid service workers who struggle to make a living in one of the world's richest cities, and for all those public service workers who this year are facing attacks on jobs and pay from which government is returned.

I'm told if you are in Trafalgar Square today from around 12.30 you can greet the workers and hear more about their case. If not, you can still e-mail the Gallery director Dr.Nicholas Penny to tell him what you think.

For more information see:

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Comrades, comrades...

LINDSEY GERMAN, leaving SWP after best part of lifetime

THOSE who have been confidently predicting the expulsion of Lindsey German and John Rees from the Socialist Workers Party will have been at least partially disappointed this week, with the news that at least one of the duo seems to have forestalled such a move by sending in her resignation instead.

I don't know what the bookies will say. Or whether the SWP leadership could still proceed in the style of my old party boss, Gerry Healy, and the WRP, who rather than be deprived of the satisfaction, would go ahead and expel somebody after they had already left.

Lindsey German is national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, which the SWP working with others could claim as its biggest success, John Rees a co-founder of Stop the War and first national secretary of Respect. At the peak of Stop the War Coalition campaigning they addressed the biggest political rallies seen in Britain since the Second World War. Both of them had served on the SWP Central Committee for thirty years or more, and Rees edited its International Socialism magazine.

It was after the SWP's failure to keep in with George Galloway in Respect that John Rees and Lindsey German fell into disgrace as it were, and were dumped from the Central Committee, forming a "Left Faction" (though what's especially "Left" about it I don't know). Since then several lesser-known SWP activists, ranging from trade unionists on Tyneside to a woman at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London have been expelled for alleged "factional activity", or even "anti-Party" acts, though precisely what they did to merit expulsion appears to be a mystery to them, let alone anyone outside. "First the sentence, then the evidence" -if any - would seem to be the way.

I'd be interested to hear if the expulsions on Tyneside have had any bearing on SWP members' union activity, for instance the defence of one of their own members who was being victimised and felt let down by his union, Unison. They seem to have affected anti-war campaigning. Lindsey German's specific offence seems to be that as a leader of the Stop the War Coalition she accepted an invitation to speak at a Stop the War meeting in Newcastle, which other SWP members had decided for whatever reason should not take place. Hence the exchange of correspondence which is seen below.

Dear Lindsey,

On behalf of the CC, we are repeating our request that you don't speak at the disputed StW meeting in Newcastle tonight [Wednesday 10th February]. We expect you, like all SWP members, to respect our decisions.
We also think that it is imperative that you meet with members of the CC at the earliest possible opportunity. Could you please give us some dates when you are free.

Martin Smith (SWP National Secretary)

Dear Martin,
I asked Judith whether I would be subject to disciplinary action if I went to Newcastle. Your reply is ambiguous on this question. Could you please clarify. The STW meeting is not disputed, as you put it. It was agreed at two Tyneside STW steering committees, despite our comrades raising why I was going to the meeting. I therefore think your request is misplaced.


Dear Lindsey,

We have already made our decision very clear to you. If you ignore our request we reserve the right to respond as we see fit.


Dear Martin,
It is clear from your reply that your request is in fact an instruction not to speak in Newcastle tonight at the Stop the War meeting.
I regard such a course of action as damaging both to the party and STW. The meeting is properly constituted as evidenced by two sets of minutes of steering committee. There is no good reason for me to withdraw and none that I could possibly justify to STW members locally or nationally.
I have always tried to prevent internal disputes from damaging the movement. I feel that you have brought these disputes into STW and that is unacceptable.
It is therefore with the greatest regret that I am resigning from the SWP. This is a very hard decision for me. I joined more than 37 years ago and have always been committed to building it, which in my view meant relating to the wider movement.
I was on the CC for 30 years, edited the Review for 20 and played a major role in the movement and party building. My respect and affection for many party members remains, and my commitment to socialism as ever. I hope to continue working with them in the wider movement.

Lindsey German

I acknowledge receipt of your resignation and have amended our records accordingly.
Please note it is your responsibility to inform your bank to close your Direct Debit/Standing Order.

Martin Smith (SWP National Secretary)

I like that final reply. Nice and business-like. A standard pro-forma type letter to someone who has given the best part of her life to a Party - 37 years, starting when she was 22-years old, and serving so long on the Central Committee as well as being probably the SWP's best-known face to the public outside in recent years.

It may be premature, but at this rate I think comrade Smith could before long need another pro forma saying
"Will the last one to leave please turn out the lights".

I could take a certain ironic satisfaction from seeing Lindsey German going like this. A few years back when the Stop the War Coalition was preparing its main national demonstration on the Saturday that happened to be Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, some STWC supporters proposed that as a gesture it should include a Jewish speaker on the platform. Lindsey German reportedly objected that Jews as a "faith community" were not against the war, and then when it was suggested that the Jewish Socialists' Group (which was a STWC affiliate) could provide a speaker, complained that the JSG was not "representative" of the community.
"Who does she want, on Rosh Hashana, the Chief Rabbi? ", I wondered.

Annoyed as I was by this example of SWP blockheadedness, what really disgusted me was the later refusal by Stop the War to allow a group of Iranian refugees who had marched from Birmingham to London to have a spokesperson on the platform to explain why, though opposed to the Iranian regime, they were also against imperialist war. The Stop the War leadership still refuses to countenance Hands off the People of Iran(HOPI) joining its coalition, even though Lindsey German herself has recently spoken at a meeting in support of the Iranian opposition - albeit, the liberal rather than workers' opposition it seems.

All the same, whatever her political limitations, Lindsey German surely deserved better treatment from her Party?

I don't pretend to know, let alone understand, the substantive differences, if any, between Lindsey German, John Rees and Martin Smith and co. Who does? But I do see a more general issue in this episode. As a leader of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey German was surely bound to honour an invitation to speak at a Stop the War meeting if she could? And as supporters, presumably, of the Coalition, SWP leaders should surely have respected this, rather than preferring to see the Tyneside event flop to suit their factional spite?
What other reason was there?

If a left-wing group wishes to draw kudos from having one of its members head a broader coalition, or hold a trade union position say, then shouldn't it accept that the post carries with it responsibilities to the movement, and the members who have elected you? If, on the other hand, a group insists on its own priorities, even putting a petty factional squabble before the interests of the broader movement, doesn't that disqualify them from giving leadership or deserving trust?

Here is Lindsey German's explanation of why she resigned:

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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Health workers grabbed by Philippines military

PHILIPPINES media appear to be trying to play down widespread concern and anger over the latest action by the military. A joint operation by police and troops in the town of Morong, in Rizal province, detained 43 health workers whom the army claimed were attending a bomb-making course run by the left-wing New People's Army(NPA).

But the doctors and nurses arrested were members of the Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD), in the town to conduct medical training, according to two farmers' organisations, the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and Tanggol Magsasaka, who issued a statement on Sunday.

“We totally condemn this vicious act of the Arroyo government…the abduction of 42 patriotic doctors and medical personnel who offer their services to the poor. We strongly call for their immediate release,” said Antonio Flores, KMP spokesman and Tanggol Magsasaka coc-onvenor.

Lt. Col. Noel Detoyato, civil-military operations officer of the Army’s 2nd Infantry “Jungle Fighter” Division, said the suspects were members of the national, regional and local units of the NPA. He said the 17 men and 26 women were arrested when the troops searched a house in barangay Maybangcal, Morong, on the strength of a warrant issued by a local court.

Detoyato said the team seized a .45 calibre pistol, a .38 calibre revolver, three hand grenades, a canister, an improvised land mine, two improvised claymore mines, two kilos of ammonium nitrate, seven blasting caps, 36 home made explosive sticks, cellular telephones, backpacks and campaign materials of a party-list group.

The HEAD said its members were at the rest house of physician Melecia Velmonte and were conducting health- skills training when government troops raided the house, blindfolded those found in the house and forcibly took them to the headquarters of the 2nd ID in Tanay, Rizal.

Philippines TV news has failed to report a statement by Senator Pia S. Cayetano, chair of the Philippines Senate's Committee on Social Justice, who said:

"The 202nd Infantry Brigade of the armed forces should be made accountable for violating the rights of the 43 health personnel who were rounded up last Saturday while attending a training seminar in Morong, Rizal then later detained incognito at Camp Capinpin. The military's refusal to grant access to the health workers' relatives, lawyers and even the quick-reaction team of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) is a clear violation of their Constitutional rights to liberty and presumption of innocence until proven otherwise. This act should not be tolerated by the Arroyo regime.

"I would like to remind the arresting officers that our country is not under martial law anymore. The warrant used to round up the 43 was reportedly flawed. Since when can an arrest warrant issued against a specified person be used for a mass arrest? I sympathize with the relatives of the detained doctors, nurse, midwife and health volunteers. Is it now a crime to serve remote communities where government health services are hardly available, if at all? The military has no authority to detain incognito any citizen on mere suspicion of being communist rebels or supporters. The military should immediately produce all 43 and face the CHR and the courts."

More than one armed group is active in the Philippines, including Muslim rebels. One of the worst atrocities, in which at least 57 people were murdered, in the Maguindanao province in the south, has been attributed to professional gunmen hired by a local mayor and governor, belonging to a group that has close to the government.

The NPA, regarded as the military wing of the Philippines Communist Party, can trace its roots to the "Huk" rebels who fought Japanese occupation in World War II, and were America's allies - until that war ended. Guerrilla activity fell away in the mid-Fifties, but in the following decade the Philippines party largely came under Maoist influence, and in 1969 the NPA was launched with a perspective of "protracted war".

After the downfall of the Marcos dictatorship the Philippines left tried to shift back to the towns, and legal forms of activity such as trade union work. But this too has become dangerous under the Arroyo regime, notwithstanding its armistice with the NPA in 2007.

From 2004 to 2008, the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR) recorded 70 killings and two cases of enforced disappearances. The count is part of the more than 800 victims of disappearances and extrajudicial killings listed by the human rights group Karapatan since President Arroyo came to power in 2001.

The US government has classified the NPA as a "terrorist" organisation, and European governments have followed this lead, although some Philippine left-wingers are in exile in Europe.

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Monday, February 08, 2010

Iran: statesmen anxious to maintain threat of war

ARE Western leaders and Iranian President Ahmadinejad worried that the threat of war might die down if they don't keep fanning the flames?

At the weekend US Defence secretary Robert Gates dismissed assurances by Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, that his government was close to reaching a deal that would see some of its uranium sent abroad for enrichment.

"Under the present conditions that we have reached, I think that we are approaching a final agreement that can be accepted by all parties," Mottaki said. It should be up to Tehran to set the amounts to be exchanged, based on its needs.

The Iranian minister was speaking at an international security conference in Munich, where he also had a meeting with Yukiya Amano, the head of the International Atomic Energy Authority. "We had a very good meeting," Mottaki said.

But in Ankara, the Turkish capital, US Defence Secretary Gates said he saw no evidence that Tehran had changed its position in its nuclear dispute with the US and its allies and suggested it was time to move forward with sanctions.

"I don't have the sense that we're close to an agreement," Gates said. "If Iran has decided to accept the proposal of the P5-plus-one, they should do that to the IAEA [the International Atomic Energy Agency]," Gates said referring to the five permanent members of the UN security council and Germany.

"The reality is, the longer that this goes on and the longer they continue to enrich, the value of the Tehran research proposal as a reassurance to the international community diminishes," he said. Gates said Iran had done nothing to reassure the international community that they were prepared to comply with the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) or stop their progress towards a nuclear weapon.

Unlike Iran, Israel is not even a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and already has a large nuclear arsenal. Far from inviting international inspection of its weapons and nuclear plants, the Zionist State continues to punish nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu for blowing the whistle on its nuclear weapons. But that is something which US and British governments and the tame media studiously avoid mentioning.

Iran says it needs nuclear energy to reduce dependency on fossil fuels and to develop desalination plants. Western governments accuse Iran of aiming to develop nuclear weapons, and the media persistently links this with President Ahmadinejad's supposed threat to "wipe Israel off the map".

Keeping up the mood, the United States a new computer game has the scenario that begins "Iran explodes a dirty bomb in New York", while in Israel a project is offering well-heeled American tourists the chance to join the Israeli army in war games "against Hamas, Hizbollah, Syria and Iran".

Robert Gates was Defence Secretary under George Bush, when America openly talked of bombing Iran, now he is Obama's Defence Secretary trying to pull other countries behind the policy of sanctions amounting to economic and social war. In Iran, as in Iraq before, it is ordinary people that could suffer from this, and sanctions could prove not an alternative but a prelude to war.

Foad Izadi, a professor of politics at the University of Tehran told Al Jazeera that what is puzzling to some people in Tehran is why, when Iran is willing to accept the offer, are they are being criticised. "Mr. Mottaki said Iran is willing to make a formal offer to the IAEA. [However] there are a number of details that need to be worked out [before that happens] - the timing, the location and the amount of the exchange," Izadi said.

"Because of the history that Iran and the West have had, Iran is somewhat cautious.

"They want to propose an idea, see what the response from the other side is, and then sign papers." Last October, Iran agreed in principle to export the bulk of its uranium to have it enriched to 20% purity and then made into fuel rods in France. However, the deal subsequently unravelled amid disagreements in Tehran.

Today, the British press and TV news which paid little or no attention to Foreign Minister Mottaki's hints of a deal, has headlined a call by President Ahmadinejad for Iran's atomic energy organisation to begin enriching its uranium stockpile to a higher level. Gates call for stepping up moves for international sanctions was linked to this, and the news that Iran would address the United Nations on its plans today.

Ahmadinejad was shown on Iranian TV giving an order for the uranium, currently enriched to the level of 3.5%, to be further refined to 20% purity. State media said the work would start on Tuesday. Iran said that it needs the more concentrated fuel for a research reactor in Tehran which makes isotopes for medical uses. However, western officials argued that Iran does not possess the specialised technology for turning the enriched uranium into the fuel rods used in the Tehran reactor. They were concerned that by enriching uranium to the level of 20%, the Islamic republic would learn how to overcome many of the technical obstacles to making weapons-grade fuel.

Thus the US and allies prefer not to take reassurances from Iran which might lesson the drive for sanctions and the threat of war. Ahmadinejad, for his part, needs the hostility and threats from western powers to maintain a siege atmosphere reinforcing support for his regime, and providing a pretext for repression of opposition at home.

The more this game goes on, the greater the danger of real war.

We must demand that nuclear weapons are banned throughout the Middle East - obviously starting with its one existing nuclear power, Israel - as a move towards ridding the world of this threat. No support for sanctions and war! No support for the Islamicist regime! Full support for the growing workers and students movement for freedom in Iran!

Al Jazeera English - Middle East - US denies Iran nuclear deal 'close'

including day school in Manchester:

Fighting Imperialism and Fighting Repression Day School

Saturday February 13 @ 1pm
University of Manchester Students’ Union Meeting Room 1

Meeting 1: Imperialism and Iran
With speakers from Glasgow University and HOPI

Meeting 2: The Iranian Revolution 1979 and Today
With speakers from HOPI and the Green Party

for more information on this and other events see:


Wednesday, February 03, 2010

"Bodies being eaten by dogs in the street'

A YOUNG internationally-known human rights campaigner and aid worker has made a brief but shocking appeal from Haiti in a letter to friends. Caoimhe Butterly, from Ireland, has worked in occupied Palestine -where she was shot by Israeli troops, and in Lebanon, as well as with homeless families in New York. Now she is in Haiti with the Turkish NGO IHH. Caoimhe writes:

" Should have written more but the situation here is actually horrific- and nothing is really moving..People hungry, wounded, grieving, homeless and desperate and the larger humanitarian organisations are completely failing in responding to what is going to become a full-blown crisis.

Bodies are still rotting or being eaten by dogs in the streets, and hundreds of thousands of people are sleeping in the streets and in make-shift camps of plastic sheeting. Many areas outside of the capital have not received any relief or medical teams since the earthquake and even the situation in the capital is desperate. And so many stories- entire families wiped out- and hurried burials in mass graves/ burning of bodies unclaimed in the streets means that many still wait for confirmation of their loved ones deaths..

If you guys know anyone coming here, please give them my number- we're working at St Clare's Church and Fathiyeh Mosque co-ordinating a more grassroots network of distribution and medical teams to the camps and there is need for medical personnel, medical equipment and supplies".

Caoimhe's concern as to whether aid is reaching people who desperately need it is shared by another witness. On 31 January 2010 22:59, Flavia Cherry, chair of the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA), wrote the following description of her experience in Port-au-Prince:

"It is good to see that some efforts are being made to reach women in desperate need, but those of us on the ground are yet to see this happen in many of the areas where there is desperate need for food and relief. Aid agencies MUST find a more humane way to reach out to the women and children who are most vulnerable and desperate. I know that the need is great, (but) there is no excuse for what is the reality on the ground here in Haiti, as Caribbean citizens offered help and many have even been denied entry. It is obvious that the aid agencies (well intentioned as they may be) are unable to handle the scale of the problem here in Haiti. So why are they not being inclusive and involving more Haitian and Caribbean institutions in the relief and recovery efforts? Something is very wrong about the picture here in Haiti because while international agencies are dropping the ball in an attempt to monopolize aid efforts, Haitians are dying. Apart from lines for women, there is an urgent need for volunteers to go into the camps to reach women, children, disabled and elderly people who are unable to move.

It is a disgrace for so much money to be circling around to all kinds of aid groups, and every single day I see so many people hungry, desperate. This situation is simply not acceptable. There are women in camps who have not had anything to eat for days. There are many available Hatians who are willing to assist as volunteers to get the aid to those who need it, and CARICOM was willing to send help, but something seems to be really wrong. Why are Caribbean Governments not allowed to play a more pivotal role, especially as there are many CARICOM citizens and regional security officers who speak Creole and would be able to communicate better with the people of Haiti.

What I see on the ground is lots of big fancy air-conditioned vehicles moving up and down with foreigners, creating more dust and pollution on the roads. Thousands of millitary officers everywhere, heavily armed
like they are in some kind of battle zone. The girl guides and boy scouts of Haiti are also out in their uniforms, but unlike the army of troops, they are up and about, assisting in many ways. I saw of group of the boy scouts and girl guides directing traffic today, Sunday!

From the very beginning, I have been asking why aid agencies did not arrange separate lines for women, children and disabled people. It is obvious that if you leave people hungry for 5 to 8 days without food,
they will be desperate and when food finally arrives, it will be survival of the fittest. The international agencies allowed confusion to reign supreme for more than two weeks while sensational and racist
media people were merrily portraying images of hungry people fighting for food. At least now that they have suddenly realized the need for separate lines, I hope that this happens at every single distribution
point, because as I am writing this email, that certainly is NOT the case."

The United States military has taken control of Haiti's ports and airport, not the first time it has occupied the country, but 'military efficiency' does not seem to br0ught much benefit to the suffering people. The way in which powerful governments are more interested in gaining military, political and economic advantages out of Haiti's suffering, and the reported tardiness of big aid bureaucracy, contrast with ready human response of ordinary people and skilled professionals from around the world.

In the United States, Haitians and American supporters have a Haiti Emergency Relief Fund which is channelling aid to trade union and grass-roots organisations in Haiti, and sent a truckload of medical supplies to the Airistide Foundation in Port au Prince. Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez announced that he would write off the undisclosed sum Haiti owes Venezuela for oil. And in a reminder of the old saying that it's the poor that help the poor, we read of of money being raised for Haiti in Gaza, and funds being diverted by popular agreement that had been intended for Daheisha refugee camp in the West Bank.

In London, singer Billy Bragg will be joined tonight by Cuban salsa dancers Son Mas and Omar Puente, poet Jean 'Binta' Breeze and others in a Concert for Haiti being held at the TUC's Congress House. But if you haven't got your ticket too late - I hear it has been completely sold out. For once it's a TUC sell-out we won't complain about!

Trade unionists are endeavouring to get funds to sisters and brothers working in the Haitian trade union movement, rather than trust governments and government-run organisations.

The urgent need to get aid to the people of Haiti now is not blinding people to the history of plunder and exploitation which impoverished this state, nor preventing them discerning another application of the "shock doctrine", previously seen in New Orleans and Iraq among other places, by which powerful capitalist interests and 'neo-liberal' crusaders hope to use wars and natural disasters to impose their will on helpless peoples. At least the dogs on the street are only driven by their own hunger.

Brent Trades Union Council in North-West London is hoping to have a speaker on Haiti at its AGM on Wednesday evening, February 24. Watch out for more information on:

There is also a public meeting in central London next week:

Thursday 11 February 2010
Brockway Room, Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square
London WC1

* Peter Hallward, author of Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide,
and the Politics of Containment

* Selma James, writer and solidarity activist, Global Women's

* Nick Dearden, director of Jubilee Debt Campaign

Haiti was the first independent nation in Latin America, freed as a result of an inspiring slave revolt. Yet it has been subject to domination ever since, from US occupations, to the crippling 135-year debt imposed by former colonial master France, to Western-backed dictatorships and IMF-imposed free market economic 'reforms'.

Now, as US troops patrol the country, free market economists are seeing new opportunities to privatise and 'restructure' Haiti's economy, while its external debts have still not been cancelled by rich donors.
The 'shock doctrine' looks to be striking again.

Join the discussion about what solidarity we can offer to those in Haiti seeking an alternative future.
Organised by the Radical Activist Network, [2]

(thanks to Mike Phipps for passing on message from Caiomhe and information from RAN)

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Monday, February 01, 2010

West country postman finds hidden treasure -again!

SOMERSET post office worker Dave Chapple has done it again! Five years ago, when we were delegates at the trades union councils conference in Liverpool, he told me of his meetings with Manchester communist veteran Henry Suss, a former trade unionist in the garment industry and Communist councillor in Swinton and Pendlebury, who had retired to the West Country.

Dave had gone to see the octogenarian activist at a home for the blind in Burnham on Sea, from where he was running a campaign against closure of a local post office. Before long he was interviewing Henry about his background and past struggles, persuading the old boy to dig out family photographs and press cuttings, and taking trips to Manchester himself for some more pictures. Dave was thus able to publish the lavishly illustrated and fascinating book Henry Suss and the Jewish working-class of Manchester and Salford(November 2005).

Next, Dave befriended a retired but active hospital trade unionist called Howard Andrews, better known to his mates as 'Andy', originally from Kilburn in North West London, and in his Nineties turning up on his buggy for picket lines and peace demonstrations in Taunton. Andy had been an International Brigade volunteer, still remembered for his work at a field hospital on the Aragon front. As his 100th birthday approached he was asked whether he would like a greetings telegram from the Queen, and declined, saying "I never got on with that family".

Dave Chapple made sure 'Andy' Andrews was honoured in political and trade union circles,and on the Left Stage at Glastonbury, though amid the speeches at his 101st birthday in Taunton Andy complained, saying he wanted to hear "less adulation, and more politics!"

Dave Chapple himself is an activist rather than archivist; currently chair of Bristol and district amalgamated branch of the Union of Communication Workers(UCW), defending workers' jobs and conditions in Royal Mail, and a stalwart of the National Shop Stewards Movement, to which he has brought his independent political outlook and sense of history, as well as the trades councils. In his spare time(!) he is a keen cyclist and popular DJ around his area. But his alert eye for material, ear for a human story, and energy for research have enabled him an output many an academic must envy.

Now Dave has enriched our knowledge, and collective class memory, again, by bringing another old veteran into the limelight. It all started he says with the discovery, a few years ago, of an old Union of Post Workers(UPW) minute book in his Branch office, the minute book of a 1935-37 Bristol UPW Rank and File Movement, and an oral history project involving the only surviving member of that group, George Massey.

George, who will be 94 on February 20th, is the oldest Honorary Member of the Bristol Branch, and, almost certainly, the oldest living member of the UPW Executive Council. His memories cover a working class Bristol childhood with a Post Office father, Boy Messenger from 1930, SC&T/Sorting Clerk and Telegraphist, War Service in the RAF, marriage to Mary -a Bristol telegraphist in the Blitz- and UPW service as a Bristol Branch Officer in the 1950's.

A self-educated and at times dissident Communist from 1935, George was expelled from the Communist Party in 1938 for opposing the Moscow Trials, and, twenty years later, was in trouble again for protesting the execution of Hungarian ex-Prime Minister Imre Nagy. Promoted to overseer in 1959 whilst still a Communist, George organised regular collections for postmen and telephonists among his fellow managers during the seven week UPW strike of 1971 and was a welcome guest speaker at strike rallies. Dave's book is a fitting tribute to a Post Office union stalwart who has also been an active socialist for 76 years.

However, Dave’s book is no mere biography. It charts the rise and fall of Communist Party influence in one important UPW Branch over thirty years, under the different pressures of a Rank and File Movement, World War, 1945 Labour Government, the H-Bomb, and the long Cold War.

"Grasshoppers, Stonkers and Straight Eights:George Massey and Bristol Post Office Workers 1930-1976" has been published with the financial assistance of the CWU, the Lipman-Miliband Trust and the South West Region TUC. Dave hopes it will encourage CWU and other trade union branches to consider local union history projects themselves. "These might include recording memories of retired activists of unions such as the UPW, NCU/POEU or CPSA; the collecting of old photographs, certificates, or long-forgotten branch banners; the cataloguing of surviving Branch Minute books, press cuttings and other records; and the holding of special branch committee meetings to discuss our union's history at local or national level".

Like his Henry Suss book, "Grasshoppers, Stonkers and Straight Eights" is a large-format A4 sized softback. Its 242 pages are profusely illustrated with photographs and UPW documents, none of which have ever been published in book format.

If Trades Councils/Trade Union Branches wish to order copies, the costs are £12 for 1, £18 for 2, £25 for 3, or £30 for 4, all post-free, from Dave Chapple, 1 Blake Place, Bridgwater, Somerset TA6 5AU, Tel. 01278 450562,

See also:

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