Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Jonathan Moyle

JONATHAN MOYLE. Did he stumble into powerful interests?

THIRTY years ago, on March 31, 1990, Silvia Cabrera made a horrific discovery in room 1406 of the Carrera hotel where she worked in Santiago, Chile. The room was in chaos, with papers scattered around. There was a syringe on the table. And the room occupant's body hanging in the wardrobe.

The dead guest was a young British journalist, Jonathan Moyle, a former RAF pilot, working for the journal Helicopter World, in Santiago covering the air show as guest of the Chilean air force.

At first the Chilean police listed the death as a suicide. British Foreign Office officials put out the story that the dead man had died accidentally while engaged in some bizarre and elaborate act of auto-eroticism.

Jonathan Moyle's parents refused to accept that he had killed himself either deliberately or by misadventure. Their son had been in good spirits, following up a story that fitted his special interests, and was looking forward to getting married when he returned.

The evidence uncovered when the case was pursued showed they were right. A Chilean judge pronounced the cause of death as murder. Moyle had been drugged, suffocated with a pillow, injected in the heel with a lethal substance, then strung up in the closet. An improvised nappy had been put on him to contain bodily fluids and smell so as to delay the body being found.

Further investigation by journalists and by Jonathan's father Anthony Moyle indicated that the helicopter journalist had been interviewing Chilean air force officers and officials of a company owned by Carlos Cardoen. He had also received warnings to back off. He appears to have been interested in the company's purchase and modification of some helicopters for military use. It is thought the helicopters may have been sold on to Saddam Hussein.

The Iraqi regime was known as a good customer for Cardoen. In 1987 the New York Times reported that the Chilean arms dealer made a fortune selling cluster bombs to Iraq during the war with Iran. With the war winding down in the late 1980s, Saddam Hussein may still have wanted helicopters both for external and internal use against Kurdish and other rebels. US Congressional papers record that Cardoen tried to manufacture a cheap attack helicopter from a customized Bell Jet Ranger, one of the world's most readily available commercial helicopters. The Iraqi government's officers may have seen this on display at the Santiago show, and put in an order.

Maybe Jonathan Moyle had seen it too. A keen, politically-naieve if patriotic man, said to have informed on fellow-students during his college days. he might well have been using his job as journalistic cover for intelligence work, and would certainly have seen it as his duty to investigate anything he considered of concern to Her Majesty's government, and pass on what he found.

It may not have occurred to him that some people, at least, in HM government, might already know something about supplying weapons and military technology to Iraq, and would thank him to keep his nose out of such things. It was not until November 1992, when three executives of Coventry machine-tool manufacturer Matrix Churchill were charged with supplying equipment of strategic use to Iraq, and during their case that we heard about former defence procurement minister Alan Clarke's advice to be "economic with the actualite".

But already before this another connection had been raised in the House of Commons. Early Day Motion 589, moved by Ken Livingstone,was headed "Mark Thatcher and arms Sales to Iraq:

"That this House welcomes the decision of the United States Congress to investigate arms sales to Iraq; notes the charges by former Israeli Military Intelligence agent Mr Ari Ben-Menashe that a Texan-based company owned by Mr Mark Thatcher was used to move equipment directly from Britain to Iraq, that Mark Thatcher introduced 'Supergun' designer Gerald Bull to South African Military Intelligence General Pieter Van der Westhuizen, who subsequently introduced Mr Bull to the Iraqi Deputy Chief of procurement who arranged payment for Mr Bull's services via Cardoen Industries financial network and that Mark Thatcher introduced Mr Bull to Mark Thatcher's Chilean associate Carlos Cardoen; notes that Mr Ben Menashe also charges that Mark Thatcher sold 48 Chieftain tanks to Chile and proclaimed his admiration for General Pinochet; and, in the light of these charges, hopes the Government will conduct its own investigation to determine the truth of these charges and, if proved true, bring criminal charges against any United Kingdom Government individuals who were aware of these activities".

We may note an interesting coincidence. The Matrix-Churchill trial was linked with Iraq's efforts to build a "super-gun" for accurate firing of missiles. The designer, Canadian engineer Gerald Bull, had previously supplied heavy weaponry to Israel and South Africa, and been recommended for US citizenry by Senator Barry Goldwater, before finding a customer in Iraq. Bull was assassinated outside his Brussels flat on March 22, 1990 less than ten days before the killing of Jonathan Moyle in Chile. It was reportedly carried out by a three-man Mossad hit team, and it is generally assumed that the Israeli secret service was gunning for Bull because he was helping the Iraqis.

But on April 16, 1998, the Flemish daily de Morgen discovered another coincidence. The arrival in Brussels of a four-man team, described in documents as "UK MoD Special Forces Staff", in the weeks before Gerald Bull was killed. They were supposedly looking into supply of special explosive devices by the PRB company. Among them was Stephan Kock, described as both MI6 and SAS, whose company Astra Holdings was in competition with Gerald Bull for ownership of PRB.

There are bound to be tangles of intrigue and disinformation surrounding these cases, with intelligence services, even those which which otherwise co-operate, competing to point the finger at each other.
The fact remains that two men were killed, one in Santiago and one in Brussels, and in neither case has anyone been brought to justice.

Jonathan Moyle appears to have met his death because in his keenness to pursue the truth he stumbled into powerful, ruthless interests. But whose? Carlos Cardoens might have had the motive and the resources to remove this nuisance, but could he alone have arranged a cover-up, and made sure he never faced justice?
The British intelligence services never kill people - we know this because they have more than once said so, and we are supposed to believe them. But it remains striking that, far from pressing the Chileans for an investigation into the death of a British subject, it was British officials who hastened to discourage interest with their story about strange sexual practices.

And after the Matrix-Churchill scape-goating trial collapsed, we had the Scott Inquiry, much of which remained secret, and no further moves to prosecute anyone involved in the Iraqi arms business.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Ms.Kam "takes leave of absence"

AN Israeli journalist has been secretly held under house arrest for three months, and the country's newspapers and television ordered not to talk about it. Friends who wanted to make her case public have been told they had better keep quiet, for fear of making it worse.

Last week an Israeli academic working in the United States broke the story as following online:

The Israeli blogosphere is full now with rumors and speculations about the fate of the young Israeli internet journalist Anat Kam (born 1987), especially the circumstances of her so-called "disappearance." Officially, Ms. Kam took a leave of absence from her Internet portal Walla, but the rumours insist that in fact she is under some sort of house arrest, due to her role in the leak and publication in Ha'aretz in November 2008 of IDF highly classified ("top secret") documents on the IDF secret loose procedures of dealing with "wanted" Palestinians. The story indicates as of the IDF created engagement procedures that practically allow the IDF to shoot and kill "wanted Palestinians" even not in situation of self defense.

Avner Cohen added:
A Facebook group was quickly established today with an effort to spread the little information known on the Kam case. In response, friends of Anat Kam have asked to stop these activities, that they could undermine the hope to end this affair quietly, in a manner to that would allow to end the affair. Within an hour that Facebook was gone.

He went on:

'Well, I happen to have personal recollection about another affair, a decade ago, with some similar aspects to the Kam's case. This was the secret arrest of Brig. Gen Yitzhak Yaacov (Yatza) in March 2001. Yatza was under arrest for nearly a month before the story came out in public, during that period there was gag order (tzav isur pirsum) and the argument was similar to the one we hear now: there is a chance to resolve the issue quietly, so lets not undermine this chance.

I know that story well because my affair and Yatza were intimately tied. I knew about his disappearance almost from dayone. When I was finally allowed to leave the country, and Yatza was still under his secret arrest, I gave my word to the MALMAB people that I would would not leak Yatza's arrest overseas.

Indeed, I kept my word and did not leak the story. But then, almost a month into the secret arrest as I got a call from the Sunday Times senior correspondent in Washington who told me that the Uzi Machanaymi, the paper's representative in Israel, wrote the story but it is he, the Washington representative, who will have the byline, and therefore he needed to check whether the story (which he did not write) has some merit. Well, except the lone fact that was reported CORRECTLY, that is that Yatza was under a secret arrest for a month, almost everything else in the story was false. The story presumed as if Yatza was a real Soviet spy and Tania, hi s wife, was sort of Mata Harry. He wanted me to save himself from embarrassment and to get some advise whether to go along with the story or not.

My situation was not dissimilar with the situation involving the current story now. I felt a real dilemma. On the one hand, the secret arrest had been taken place for a full month, on the other hand there was my desire not to harm Yatza further and the "word of honor" I gave the MALMAB.

I decided then the following: while I contribute nothing new factual to the Sunday Times, I decided to confirm the arrest, to encourage the Sunday Times to publish it. I urged the journalist to be vague on everything else, hinting him that much in his story was inaccurate, did not say what and how, but encouraged them to publish it anyway. Well, within a day the story was out, the gag order was dead. Haaretz under Hanoch was the first one not to obey the gag order

For years I tortured myself whether it was good to Yatza or not. In retrospect, I think it was. Yes, Yatza had to face a trial, but he would have faced that in any case. Horev was determined to do it. This was the beginning of the fall of Yechiel Horev. The press asked for some answers. They forced the "system" to deal with it.

I think my dilemma then is not irrelevant to the present case. Mmuch food for thought.'

Today the story was taken up today by the Independent:

Israeli leak suspect held in secret house arrest

Gagging order in case of woman accused of leaking military information to press

By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem The charges against Anat Kam, which could carry a heavy prison sentence if she is convicted, are believed to accuse her of photocopying classified documents during her period of military service.

Although the charges are not thought to specify a particular media outlet or article, there has been speculation that they relate to an investigation by the journalist Uri Blau in Haaretz magazine in November 2008. That report suggested that one of two Islamic Jihad militants killed in Jenin in June 2007 had been targeted for assassination in apparent violation of a ruling issued six months earlier by Israel's supreme court.

While not outlawing assassinations in the West Bank altogether, the ruling heavily restricted the circumstances in which they were permissible, effectively saying that they should not take place if arrest was possible.

Mr Blau's article said that the assassination of one of the militants killed in Jenin, Ziad Malaisha, had been approved in advance by officers, provided his car did not contain "more than one identified passenger". At the time of the shootings the military said it had killed Malaisha and another militant after they opened fire at a joint army and border police patrol.

Ms Kam was arrested more than a year after Mr Blau's report was published. At the time of her arrest, she was working for the news service Walla, which until recently was owned by Haaretz.

Discussions between the defence and the prosecution are under way and likely to be completed next week after the Passover holiday. A date for Ms Kam's trial has reportedly been fixed for 14 April, with the legal challenge to the gag order scheduled two days earlier in Tel Aviv district court.

The Israeli military declined to comment on the case yesterday.

One of Ms Kam's lawyers, Eitan Lehman, yesterday declined to discuss details of the case because of what he said was a warrant prohibiting publication. He said that leaks about the case had come from "the other side and not from us", including police sources. He added: "We are doing our best to abide by the terms of the warrant and to obey the law."

According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), a long-established US-based news service which serves the Jewish diaspora, the November 2008 report in Haaretz was approved by Israel's military censor. The news agency said that the charges against Ms Kam – which she denies – were under Israel's espionage and treason laws. JTA quoted Dov Alfon, editor-in-chief of Haaretz, as saying it was "absurd" to link Ms Kam's arrest and the 2008 article. JTA said Mr Alfon had implied that Mr Blau had obtained his information without Ms Kam's help.

Mr Alfon was quoted as adding: "Haaretz asked the court to lift the gag order, not just in the public interest but also to allow us to defend ourselves from this absurd allegation. More than a year passed between the publication and her arrest, a year in which Uri Blau published several other front-page articles criticising the army's conduct."

On the 'Yatza' case recalled by Avner Cohen, here's a NYT report:

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Watch out for the Texas Taliban!

THOMAS JEFFERSON, second on the left (behind Washington) on Mount Rushmore. Too far to the left for Tory Texans?

"9:40 – We’re just picking ourselves up off the floor. The board’s far-right faction has spent months now proclaiming the importance of emphasizing America’s exceptionalism in social studies classrooms. But today they voted to remove one of the greatest of America’s Founders, Thomas Jefferson, from a standard about the influence of great political philosophers on political revolutions from 1750 to today.

THOMAS JEFFERSON was no saint. The author of the US Declaration of Independence, which said all men are created equal, was a slave owner. But then, he was a man of his times, and a Virginian. Mind you he might have fallen into trouble with America's later miscegenation laws, and even some people's present-day prejudices. In the Richmond Recorder in 1802, James Thomson Callendar first alleged that Thomas Jefferson kept one of his slaves as his "concubine" and fathered children with her. "The name of SALLY will walk down to posterity alongside of Mr. Jefferson's own name," Callendar wrote in one of his articles on the scandal.

Sally Hemings seems to have been treated better than a mere slave, and remained with Jefferson's daughters, though she never walked down to posterity, or even as yet figured on a postage stamp. For more on her see:

But now Thomas Jefferson himself is to be removed from the history books, by order of education authorities in the state of Texas, and it isn't his supposed hypocrisy or extra-marital relations they are objecting too, but the ideas he advocated.

It's many years now since someone went out asking Americans on the street what they thought about passages on the right of people to alter or remove governments, and who wrote them, and received answers including Karl Marx and Fidel Castro. This suggests people have not been entirely indoctrinated about "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" , in the origins of the American dream. But some people on Texas' education board things went far enough, and they setting the curriculum and textbooks right . “We are adding balance,” said Dr.McLeroy., the leader of the conservative faction on the board, after the vote. “History has already been skewed. Academia is skewed too far to the left.”

Once Spanish-ruled, Texas was wrested from Mexico in 1837, ironically fighting for its freedom to keep slaves, which was against Mexican law. Today the state has a large Hispanic population, but Hispanics on the board failed in their bid to see more Latino figures included in the syllabus. Mary Helen Berlanga stormed out of a meeting late Thursday night, saying, “They can just pretend this is a white America and Hispanics don’t exist.”

“They are going overboard, they are not experts, they are not historians,” she said. “They are rewriting history, not only of Texas but of the United States and the world.”

The curriculum standards will now be published in a state register, opening them up for 30 days of public comment. A final vote will be taken in May. The standards, reviewed every decade, serve as a template for textbook publishers, who must come before the board next year with drafts of their books. Given the size of Texas and its importance as a market, publishers take notice, and this could affect the wider picture.

The seven members of the conservative bloc on the board are often joined by one of the other three Republicans on crucial votes. There were no historians, sociologists or economists consulted at the meetings, though some members of the conservative bloc held themselves out as experts on certain topics.

“I reject the notion by the left of a constitutional separation of church and state,” said David Bradley, a conservative from Beaumont who works in real estate. “I have $1,000 for the charity of your choice if you can find it in the Constitution.”

They also included a plank to ensure that students learn about “the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract With America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association.

Mavis B. Knight, a Democrat from Dallas, introduced an amendment requiring that students study the reasons “the founding fathers protected religious freedom in America by barring the government from promoting or disfavouring any particular religion above all others.”

It was defeated on a party-line vote. After the vote, Ms. Knight said, “The social conservatives have perverted accurate history to fulfil their own agenda.”

We may note that Thomas Jefferson was a Deist - that's to say he believed in an Almighty Being, but only respected Jesus as a prophet. That's a bit like the Unitarians, whom some Victorian bigots condemned as hidden Jews. But worse, in today's intolerant crusading climate, it gives Jefferson something in common with Muslims.

In economics, the revisions add Milton Friedman and Friedrich von Hayek, champions of free-market economic theory, among the usual list of economists to be studied, like Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and John Maynard Keynes. They also replaced the word “capitalism” throughout their texts with the “free-enterprise system.” “Let’s face it, capitalism does have a negative connotation,” said one conservative member, Terri Leo. “You know, ‘capitalist pig!’ ”

Cynthia Dunbar, a lawyer from Richmond who is a strict constitutionalist and thinks the nation was founded on Christian beliefs, managed to cut Thomas Jefferson from a list of figures whose writings inspired revolutions in the late 18th century and 19th century, replacing him with St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and William Blackstone. (Jefferson is not well liked among conservatives on the board because he coined the term “separation between church and state.”) “The Enlightenment was not the only philosophy on which these revolutions were based,” Ms. Dunbar said.

A detailed blow by blow account of the board meeting was blogged at

When the board might have considered a section on government and science, a right-winger wanted it to teach how government and taxes can be a brake on private enterprise. And in place of learning what the US constitution says about freedom of speech and religion, the right insisted on the importance of the citizen's right to bear arms.

The economic crisis and political developments in the United States have thrown up some fierce right-wing resistance and some desperate, violent characters. Last month a man called Joseph Stack, who had a long-series of economic setbacks and and trouble with tax and accountants, crashed a light aircraft into a Texas building containing an office of the US internal revenue service, killing one worker there and injuring others. This all-American suicide bomber had previously set fire to his house, and published a manifesto on the internet, accusing the IRS of penalising him while favouring the Catholic church. "Violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer," he said

Over the last weekend the FBI raided homes in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio, seizing pipe bombs and guns related to alleged militia activities. Several people were arrested and are to appear in court. The target was reportedly a small right-wing christian sect that believes this is the "end of days" and Christians must arm against persecution. The raids have been followed by a host of comments and videos on the internet, protesting that this is the start of 'red' Obama's war on patriotic Christian citizens and their right to bear arms.

We remember what happened to the giant Buddha's statue in Afghanistan.

I hate to be alarmist but I reckon it may soon be time to put an armed guard on Mount Rushmore, to forestall an attack on Jefferson's statue by the Texas Taliban.

for the text of the Declaration of Independence:

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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Kept Off the Air DIFFERENT PEOPLE, SAME TREATMENT? John McDonnell, MP, left, and right, Deborah Fink singing The Skies Are Weeping, cantata for Rachel Corrie.

AN Israeli artist friend, currently in the 'States, was pleased this weekend to discover her name had been added to the "S.H.I.T. list" , of supposedly "self-hating Israel-threatening" Jews, compiled by a group of mad Zionists linked with the right-wing settlers in the occupied West Bank.

I must admit I was relieved when I heard my name was on the list. After seeing younger friends make it before me, I was starting to fear for my street cred. My pride fell shortly after when I found Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks was also listed, though what he did to deserve a place I don't know.

I guess I ought not to joke about these things. In the United States some people have received threats after being listed. Here in Britain, a trade unionist was attacked in his home after the far-Right list site Red Watch drew attention to him.

But I wonder whether the lists we should worry about most are not those published by right-wing nutters with nothing better to do, but the ones that secretly circulate among powerful companies and supposedly respectable institutions, which can do you more harm.

Steve Acheson, an electrician and member of my union, was thrilled last year by the information commissioners findings that 40 building firms acted wrongly in keeping files on people. But one year later Steve is still fighting to get his job back in the industry.

I was listening to poet Michael Rosen the other day, on his Radio Four programme Word of Mouth. He is due to pick up an award on behalf of his teacher parents, at the National Union of Teachers' conference in Liverpool. When Mike Rosen first entered broadcasting forty years ago his career at the BBC was cut short, someone deciding he should be kept off the air because of his politics. A film about the Shrewsbury building pickets was part of the indictment - or perhaps would have been, had they been honest enough to state the reasons for not engaging him. At the time, in gentlemanly British tradition, he was only told the corporation could not find a suitable place for him. Only much later did he learn that two departments had wanted to give him a job but were over-ruled at higher level.

You can read more about blacklisting at the Beeb and some of the people affected in Mark Hollingsworth and Richard Norton-Taylor's 1988 book Blacklist.

But are there some people, not just those seeking a broadcasting career, but people who happen to be in the news, or members of the public, whom the beeb will try to keep off the air as a matter of policy? (obviously Nick Griffin of the British National Party is not one of these. The Beeb acted as though it had a duty to place him in the Question Time programme).

The late Dr.Cyril Smith, then an academic at the London School of Economics, I believe, was walking down the street once on Budget Day, when the BBC was interviewing people about the chancellor's doings. The man with the mike was just approaching, when a bespectacled figure looking not unlike Cyril came hurtling from nowhere saying "Not him! Not him!", and guided the interviewer away. Cyril Smith was a Marxist, but his brother Tony who worked for the Beeb was "New Labour", though the phrase had not been invented yet. Thus the viewers were spared troubling ideas at teatime!

Deborah Fink is a music teacher and opera singer from Essex. Her comfortable Jewish family background and girl's boarding school education did not prepare her for radical politics; but her hopes for peace and justice in the Middle East were strengthened into a commitment by an olive-picking stay in a Palestinian village, and witnessing the Occupation. Her campaigning energy has been toughened into defiance by encounter with the Zionists in her own community, and manhandling from the Metropolitan Police (she was accused of assaulting two large police officers but the case was thrown out. She is considering bringing her own charges). Oh, and Debbie was well ahead of me in making that Zionist hate list. Fortunately she has a good sense of humour, and has even taken up comedy. You should see her impersonation of Melanie Philips!

In November 2007, Deborah Fink organised the 'Skies are Weeping' concert at the Hackney Empire, including the world premiere of Philip Munger's cantata in memory of campaigner Rachel Corrie, killed under an Israeli bulldozer at Rafeah. Deborah was the soprano singer. Rachel Corrie's mother Cindy flew in for the occasion. The BBC broadcast a report the night afterwards, focussing on controversy and giving the last word to Jonathan Hoffman of the Zionist Federation who had led a small if noisy protest outside, supposedly on behalf of the Jewish people of London. Deborah Fink had been interviewed, and made the point that she was Jewish, and so were many of those participating or sponsoring the concert, including some big names in the arts, and we may add much of the paying audience. But Deborah and what she had to say were simply cut out from what the BBC broadcast.

She did extract an apology from the BBC some time later, for the wrong impression their broadcast had given. So did I. And so did some Jewish anti-Zionists, supporters of the concert, whom the BBC erroneously described as supporting Hoffman's Zionist protest!

John McDonnell, the left-wing Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington,is the son of a bus driver and TGWU shop steward, and worked in various jobs before getting himself higher education and making his way in the trade union and labour movement. As deputy leader of the Greater London Council he wanted to continue the fight against Thatcher longer than Ken Livingstone thought could be done. As an MP he has campaigned for a trade union freedom bill and rights for agency workers. A member of the Labour MPs Campaign Group and founder of the Labour Representation Committee, he put himself forward on an anti-war, public ownership platform to challenge Gordon Brown's accession to the Labour leadership.

John McDonnell's campaign aroused enthusiasm among trade unionists and ordinary Labour Party members, whom he addressed at public meetings, but not enough support from union leaders, or enough MPs to endorse his nomination. Had his name gone forward he would probably have come well behind Brown in the vote. But by standing, along with his socialist manifesto "Another World is Possible", he would have placed the idea of a socialist alternative in people's minds and discussion, just as the economic crisis loomed.

Was that perhaps, as much as pressure from Labour officialdom, the reason why the BBC did not mention McDonnell or his campaign? When Michael Meacher announced his short-lived bid, BBC news reported this as though it was the first challenge to Brown's leadership.

John McDonnell has been campaigning with his constituents and environmentalists against plans to rip up homes and communities for a third runway at Heathrow airport. He was suspended from the Commons after lifting the mace to protest lack of democratic discussion on this. That was reported, of course:

Last week a high court judge, Lord Justice Carnwath, ruled that the Heathrow expansion plan must be referred back to ministers, because it took no account of concerns over climate change and the government's pledges to reduce carbon emissions.

On TV we saw campaigners coming from the court in celebratory mood, and pouring classes of bubbly, and in the centre of them was the familiar face of the Hayes and Harlington MP. But when it came for comments we heard from the Tory leader of Hillingdon council,Councillor Ray Puddifoot, who referred to the election coming, and from two MPs,Susan Kramer, Lib Dem (Richmond Park) and Justine Greening, Tory(Putney).

Perhaps there wasn't time for John McDonnell as well, perhaps he was too busy celebrating with constituents, perhaps unlike us the BBC reporter did not recognise him, and that's why they they didn't even mention his name? But while the other two MPs may be concerned about carbon emissions and noise, it is John McDonnell who has to weigh the issues of threats to constituents' homes and keeping contituents' airport jobs.

John McDonnell and Debbie Fink are two very different people, and if the BBC came under any pressures to keep either of them off air in 2007, the sources will not have been the same. But there is a repeated pattern of effect from the way the Hackney Empire concert then and Heathrow Airport row today are treated. In the first case by editing out Debbie and what she had to say, the BBC report conveyed the impression that you either sympathise with Palestinians and their supporters or with (Zionist) Jews. Forget the words "Nation shall speak peace unto nation" inscribed over the door at Bush House, home of BBC overseas services. In the second case, by not hearing from John McDonnell we were left to think only Tories and perhaps Lib Dems oppose the airport expansion which, we were told, "Labour and the unions" are determined to push through. And this with a general election coming up!

In neither case are the viewers supplied with the information, or perhaps, credited with the intelligence, to understand that it is not as simple as all that. And this is what "public service broadcasting" is supposed to be?

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Sunday, March 21, 2010

From Russia to death in Glasgow

WE have heard a lot in recent years about wealthy Russians moving to Britain, sending their kids through expensive public (i.e.private) schools and laundering their money through the City of London, and buying big houses, jewellery, football clubs and newspapers. No problems about being a "small, overcrowded island", or protecting "our culture", any more than questions about how their wealth was acquired.

We recently heard about some different Russians. But we did not hear much. Just imagined the thud of their bodies hitting the ground. Neighbours on the Glasgow scheme did hear the screams as Sergei Serykh, his wife Tatiana and their 21-year-old son fell from the 15th floor of a tower block at 8:45 a.m. on a Sunday morning. All three were killed instantly.

The family had recently been told by the UK Borders Agency (UKBA) their asylum claim had been rejected. They had been asked to leave their high rise accommodation in the city’s Red Road flats. Facing deportation or, at the very least, destitution consequent to failure to make it through the UK’s asylum machinery, the family concluded that their situation was beyond hope.

People did show sympathy, holding a vigil at the foot of the tower block in the Springburn district. Among those attending, besides local residents, current and former asylum seekers and civil rights campaigners, was ten-year-old Precious Mhango. Precious and her mother Florence have recently won the right to a judicial review of the UKBA’s decision to deport them to Malawi.

One man attending the vigil told the BBC, “We feel afraid from the Home Office. Everybody is afraid. Today all asylum seekers are here to pay tribute to the three people who died. Everybody is worried about their own situations as well. If I go back to Pakistan I will be killed.”

Robina Qureshi, for the rights organisation Positive Action for Housing, called for a public enquiry into the circumstances around the Red Road deaths. “We want to know what role the UKBA played,” Quereshi said. “In particular, we want to know: did the UKBA recently communicate with the three victims over their asylum case? Were officials knocking at the door of the three suicide victims at 63 Petershill Drive, Springburn on Sunday morning when the suicides took place?”

The Glasgow site is one of several to which asylum seekers are dispersed throughout Britain, usually places with poor employment prospects or local amenities. The 20 storey blocks of flats at Springburn are half-empty and due to be demolished. Asylum seekers are not allowed to work here legally, in any case, yet they can also be cut off from benefits if their application is unsuccessful, and put in detention centres pending deportation. Only a tiny minority of applicants are accepted for refugee status.

Suicides are not uncommon. The National Coalition of Anti-Deportation Campaigns says at least 55 asylum seekers have taken their own lives since 2000. In Glasgow in 2006, Zamira Sadigova jumped out of an 11th floor flat. She was killed as police were breaking down the door to section her under the Mental Health Act. The following year, also in Glasgow, Uddav Bhandari, from Nepal, doused himself in petrol and set himself alight in the offices of the Immigration Tribunal. He died shortly after.

Unlike the shocked neighbours who showed their sympathy at the Russian family's death, MPs and media appeared indifferent or defended the asylum system, saying it had to work properly in judging cases. Tom Harris MP said. “You can’t make that judgment a hostage on the basis of threats by the individuals to take their own lives.”

Melanie Reid, a Times columnist. Reid described Sergei and his family as “members of the vast tribe of lost souls who swirl around the world, their past unverifiable, their present precarious, their future uncertain.” But she insisted, “In asylum policy emotion must never replace hard facts. Britain cannot be the world’s social worker, and we must acknowledge that some people in this twilight world are beyond help and that their deaths should not lie on our conscience.”

Thanks to Steve James and the World Socialist News Network for their report on this tragedy.

And here is another angle and further information from Tony Greenstein, of Brighton Unemployed Centre
You won't have read about it in our 'free' press, because it hasn't been reported. And anyway asylum seekers occupy a position not that much different to that of Blacks in the United States in the era of segregation, who were considered 2/5 of a human being.

But last week three asylum seekers, living in slum accommodation administered by the YMCA in Glasgow, took their own lives. They had received a decision turning down their application for asylum and the YMCA had been preparing their eviction.

And to top it all, a young Afghani refugee also living at the same bloc, attended a demonstration in commemoration of this family. As he attended the YMCA pulled the same trick - they cleared out his room and threw all his belongings in the rubbish bin.

The YMCA has been well known for its addiction to mammon. It takes money for workfare schemes that the government runs, i.e. work for your dole and from New Labour to 'house' asylum seekers. A lucrative business it must be, if at times a little unpleasant for these collaborators with Britain's persecution of asylum seekers.
Tony Greenstein


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Pont-Saint-Esprit and the Strange Affair at Woodstock

THIS is the Marlborough Arms, at Woodstock, near Oxford. An old coaching inn, nowadays spruced up and advertising its grills. No, I've not decided to turn this blog into a pub and restaurant review, and nor is this respectable establishment in the news.

Betty in Pont St.Esprit, 1952.

It was 60 years ago that the Marlborough was the scene of strange occurrences. The landlord back then was himself an unusual character. Lancashire-born Dr.Donald McIntosh Johnson had worked as a GP in Thornton Heath, Croydon, and abroad, when he decided in 1936 that he wanted to run a licensed hotel.

Between catering for locals, the county set, coach parties and the racing crowd, he found time to stand as a Liberal candidate for parliament, and was quite undeservedly smeared as a "Red" when he took an anti-Appeasement stand.

During the war, while the Marlborough was invaded by upper-class idlers avoiding the London Blitz, Dr. Johnson was found work as a Military Medical Liaison Officer. As Captain Johnson he stood as Independent in Chippenham, Wilts, coming third.

Before he took over the Marlborough Arms, Johnson had made a holiday trip to Moscow with his wife Chris, in June 1936. While there they met a young "Mr.Jones" from the American embassy, who expressed decidedly fascist sympathies. This turned out to be Tyler Kent, later transferred to London, where he joined the Right Club, led by Tory MP Archibald Maule Ramsay, and was convicted of espionage for stealing documents from the embassy.

During his wartime political wanderings Donald Johnson was briefly in contact with Tom Wintringham, ex-International Brigade commander, and founder of the Commonwealth party. Later, Frank Pakenham tried to draw him to the Labour Party. But Johnson's course was to the right-wing of the Liberal Party, looking for an alliance with Tories, opposing the National Health Service, and being a founder of what became the Society for Individual Freedom. He gave up the pub and became Tory MP for Carlisle in 1954.

None of which helps explain the incident described in his book "Bars and Barricades", in the chapter headed "A Psychotic Episode". On October 7, 1950, Johnson had a sort of mental breakdown, possibly brought on by worries about the hotel, with staff deserting to a rival establishment. But it took a peculiar form. He became convinced that the bedroom was bugged, and his mail was being intercepted. The odd thing was that his second wife, Betty had the same feeling. It got worse. Betty was convinced the laughing cavalier in the picture on the wall was winking at her. Eventually they were taken to Warneford hospital.

Johnson after being troubled with "sexual imaginings of the bawdiest and most intimate kind", began to think he was in gaol "a prisoner in the Cold war" . Unsure whether those holding him were criminals or Communists, he feared he was going to be killed. From this anxiety he next passed to thinking that "Some powerful secret organisation -maybe it was MI5, maybe it was some organisation more powerful still -had taken me in here from the ken of the world at large for some special dedicated reason".

He was going to be sent to Central Asia, and all the other folk in the ward were to be his picked companions, though cunningly disguised inmates of a mental ward. His imagination continued. He was being groomed to become Britain's representative at the UN, or Princess Margaret's husband (no accounting for fantasies).
Eventually, Betty came to see him.
"Hello, sweetheart, you're not insane."
"I know, " I said, "I'm doped."
"Sh-sh. Don't say that here. They'll keep you here for ever"
He began to get better, to co-operate with his medical attendants, and after six weeks was released.

In January 1952, Johnson and Betty went to Pont St.Esprit in France. This is the famous town where people suffered a mass outbreak of mental illness on August 16, 1951, with people having hallucinations, jumping from windows, trying to kill family members, or just thrashing about helplessly on their beds. Several people died, and others were injured, or had to be taken to mental asylums.

There had been cases like this back in the Middle Ages. They might have been attributed to witchcraft or the devil, but there is a more material explanation. Ergot is a fungus disease affecting grains, particularly rye. Ergotism, its poisonous affect on the central nervous system. The Johnsons met a doctor who had treated the people in Pont St.Esprit. All of them had eaten bread from the same baker. It seemed that in a time of shortage and austerity he had mixed some rye flour into his dough, not realising it was infected. This has been the explanation accepted till now for the Pont St.Esprit outbreak.

Yet Dr. Johnson became convinced that he and Betty had been poisoned, by persons unknown, and that the cause of his troubles was cannabis, or "Indian Hemp". He wrote about the evils of this drug, and later he asked questions in parliament about criminals from the United States who might be bringing it to Britain.

This may seem odd, because there is a drug that closely resembles ergot chemically and in its possible effects. But then back in the 1950s, Lysergic acid diethylamide, LSD, or 'Acid', was yet far from being the well-known 'recreational' drug it was to become when promoted by Timothy Leary and others a decade or so later.

It was known however. First synthesized from ergot by Dr.Albert Hoffman, in Switzerland, in 1938, and developed by the Sandoz laboratories, it was tried on children with epilepsy after the war, and sold to US institutions for psychiatric research. In 1952, a Dr. Sandison began trying it on psychiatric patients at the Powick hospital in Worcestershire.

The previous year, the US government had agreed to purchase LSD from Sandoz, on condition the company would not supply communist countries. This was not about possible therapeutic uses. The US army and the CIA were interested in its possible use in chemical warfare (for instance if it could be added to food or water supplies) or in brainwashing and interrogation techniques. Experiments were made on unwitting GIs and other guinea pigs.

Were there other experiments? Yes, a quite big one, if we are to believe a story published recently in the Daily Telegraph:

"French bread spiked with LSD in CIA experiment", said the report bylined Henry Samuel in Paris, on March 11.

'A 50-year mystery over the 'cursed bread' of Pont-Saint-Esprit, which left residents suffering hallucinations, has been solved after a writer discovered the US had spiked the bread with LSD as part of an experiment'.

The Telegraph report is based on a book by American journalist H.P. Alborelli, and its story is not entirely new nor as yet confirmed. But its publication in a relatively serious Conservative newspaper has been the cue for a lot of comment, and the French government has reportedly asked for an official statement from Washington. After all, you are not really supposed to try your chemicals on citizens of a friendly ally, and with fatal results.

This makes me wonder whether any similar experiments were carried out in Britain, and perhaps if Donald McIntosh Johnson and his partner Betty could have been picked by chance by someone wanting to experiment with the drug. Why them? Well, come to that, why Pont Saint Esprit?

And here is Abirelli on Pont St.Esprit and Olsen case:

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Friday, March 19, 2010

I'm Going Back to Bedfont

BRITISH AIRWAYS management seem to have done their damnedest to ensure a strike before Easter, and are doubtless counting on the union-bashing Tory leaders and media, and Gordon Brown's timorous crew, to make sure the workers are blamed.

So I am glad my union is taking a stand.

We've seen cabin crews coming to their meeting, some still in uniform and tired after long flights in service, determined to hear how things stood, and have their say. The union tried to restore talks on the offer the company had made, them withdrawn. BA wasn't interested.

Now the strike is on and Unite is calling a rally tomorrow a.m. Here is its very reasonable call:

"These Unite members understand the pressures the recession places on the company.
But they believe BA’s future, and 40.000 jobs, depend on it staying a premier airline.

For over one year crew have tried to get management to negotiate. They’ve even offered
to save the service by making sacrifices – up to £62 million in savings.

But BA won’t listen.

Instead BA has imposed changes, is refusing to negotiate openly and fairly and is
intimidating its workforce.

These members are fighting to save their jobs and support their families.

BA must listen.

Help stop this attack on jobs and protect standards in our aviation industry.

Please come and show your support for these trade union members at a protest this Saturday (20 March)

Location: Bedfont F.C., The Orchard,
Hatton Road, Bedfont, Middlesex TW14 8QT
Nearest Railway – Hatton Cross underground (300 yards)
Bus Service- 203 Hounslow-Staines-Hounslow


Last time I was down that way was with Gate Gourmet workers who provided BA's airline catering, and were fighting for their jobs. Because BA had outsourced to this American-owned firm, it was not counted as a BA dispute. Baggage handlers who took action in solidarity with the catering workers - not only members of the same union but in some cases family members - were disciplined for "secondary" action - a crime invented under Tory law which Labour has maintained.

Despite marching Gate Gourmet workers up and down to Labour Party conference, Unite went on to give £11 million to Labour. Tory David Cameron and his media pals are so confident of their anti-union position they say Labour is "embarrassed" over this. They even compared Labour's Charlie Whelan, now working for Unite, with their financial backer Lord Ashcroft.

What a cheek, what an insult. Unite members whose money goes to Labour work for a living. And unlike Ashcroft or press baron Rupert Murdoch, and others, they pay income tax in this country. They get to put a cross on a ballot paper now and then, but don't get as much say as those running newsppapers.

I said that the way to win against Gate Gourmet was by spreading the action abroad to places where BA flew. The example set by Liverpool dockers - who did not have official backing - would be much more effective against an airline. Now things are changing. Already some unions abroad have pledged support for the BA workers. And Unite is learning, however painfully.

The politicians have ensured this is also a political struggle. And that is why it is important to turn out for rallies like that tomorrow.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

MP joins outcry over "Dawn Raiders"

LABOUR MP John McDonnell, who is a member of the public service union Unison, has added his voice to the protest over the raids by full-time officials aimed at taking over branch offices and removing elected officers.

The left-wing MPs comments are cited in a press release issued by Unison United Left, the rank and file campaigning group which is supporting Paul Holmes as candidate for general secretary of the union.

Press Release - Dawn raids on UNISON Branches

Unison United Left, the rank and file organisation for members of the UK's largest public sector union today spoke out against the seizure of union branch offices by union staff.

Full time officials from Unison's London Regional Office led teams of staff into branch offices in Bromley and Woolwich in South East London taking control away from locally elected officials.
The Tenant Services authority branch was also placed under regional control.

This action followed the imposition of disciplinary sanctions on four Unison activists, including the Secretaries of the Bromley, Tenant Services and Greenwich branches.

"Evidence in a recent tribunal case shows that the Regional Secretary had wanted these activists suspended two years ago," said a United Left spokesperson, "now the Region is taking control of these branches in a blatant attempt to put in a local leadership who will do as they are told.

" John McDonnell UNISON MP who has consistently spoken up in support of UNISON activists, was outraged at this latest attack and said:

"This is a disgraceful attack on unison members and contrary to union democracy - members should choose their own representatives. It is also an appalling waste of the time and energy of Unison staff and activists at a time when our members face unprecedented job cuts"

Not content with wasting thousands of pounds of UNISON members money witch hunting activists over the last 3 years, UNISON staff are now openly flouting UNISON's own rules

UNISON united left encourages members and activists to voice their opposition to Dave Prentis, General Secretary, and Linda Perks Regional Secretary.

Paul Holmes candidate for UNISON General Secretary said

"This is totally unacceptable. I have raised the issue, as an NEC member for Local Government, as a matter of urgency with the Head of Local Government, Ms H.Wakefield. I can't see how there can be a connection between suspensions relating to incidents over 2 years ago and any need to have raids and to put functioning branches into special measures."

Note to editors.

1. Unison United Left is the rank and file organisation for members of UNISON.

2. Unison United Left believes that UNISON full time officers have breached:
Rule B.2.2 which states that UNISON is a "member-led" Union in which decisions taken by members will be carried out.

Rule B.2.5 which promotes the rights of members to participate in decision-making.

Rule G.3.1 which confirms the rights of members to attend branch meetings

Rule G.4.1.2 which gives members the right to elect the officers of our branches

3. For more information email

4.Paul Holmes is standing for UNISON General secretary more information can be found at

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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

PCS members battle, but Unison battles members

MEMBERS of the Public and Commercial Servants (PCS) Union are taking two days' strike action this week affecting a range of services from ports to job centres, the country's parliaments and the museums and art galleries. This is the opening shots of the conflict to come, whatever the results of coming elections, as both main parties are committed to cutting jobs and services, and government prepares to push through redundancies on the cheap.

The sight of pickets outside job centres is a reminder that when newspapers talk about "cuts in Whitehall" it is the services in your high street that face cuts. The jobs threatened are not Sir Humphreys, but clerks whose take home may be less than some clients, leaving the rest to cope with longer queues, or waits on the phone, and consequent frayed tempers.

One compensation for low paid public service workers over decades was the thought that jobs, pensions and redundancy money were safer. Now the government wants to reduce redundancy payments, and the workers are told their pensions are too high. Anyone would think they caused the crisis. Whereas as the PCS' Mark Serotka points out, the bankers who did are guaranteed their bonuses -under "contractual" agreement the government says, but not intending to honour its contractual obligation to civil servants who are made redundant.

It won't only be national government making cuts, of course. We've already seen one city council, Leeds, provoking a long binmen's strike by its chutzpah in claiming to achieve equal pay for women by lowering the men's wages. A whole number of Tory councils like Barnet and Hammersmith are privatising everything in sight to reduce jobs and workers wages. Hospitals are cutting back service provision wherever they can.
So how is the biggest union in local government and health services, Unison, gearing up for action?

Unison's general secretary Dave Prentiss has said "It's not just about a Labour government warning us that the Tories will cut spending. We know that – it's about Labour convincing us that it will not do the same." He warned last year at the union's conference that there would be no more "blank cheques" for Labour. Prentis is being challenged from the left by not one, but two or maybe three candidates. Paul Holmes, a member of the Labour Representation Committee which supported John McDonnell's battle with the Labour leadership is one, supported by Unison united left, another is Roger Bannister of the Socialist Party, who has stood before, and says the union should break its link with the Labour Party.

Once again, I am reminded of the man on the desert island who, when rescued, explained that the structure he had built on the beach was his synagogue (or chapel, depending on your tradition); whereas that other one further down was "the one I would never go to!"

I'm not a member of Unison, and don't know enough of the background, or which of the left-wing candidates I would vote for. I do know, because it is becoming notorious by now, how Unison' s non-elected full time machinery is operating. If this is a union gearing up for a fight, it is not with the employers or the government, but against its own membership.

It's not true that union officialdom is slow and indecisive. On Saturday, London NEC member Jon Rogers issued the following statement:
Early yesterday morning UNISON officials turned up at the offices of the Bromley, Greenwich and the Tenant Services Authority branches having given no notice. I understand that attempts have been made to seize control of computer hard drives and other resources, including documents on on-going personal cases.

This action follows immediately upon the conclusion of the disciplinary action against the Branch Secretaries of those branches, Glenn Kelly, Onay Kasab and Suzanne Muna, who have now been banned from holding office within UNISON for periods ranging from two years.

There are of course exceptional circumstances in which the Union does need to move in and run branches, the Rule Book deals with these thankfully very rare cases and the National Executive Council has a system of reporting where branches are placed under what is known as "Regional supervision." This procedure now appears to be being applied to these branches.

I also understand that our members in the Hackney branch, where Branch Chair, Brian Debus, has been banned from holding office, have been told that an election for a new Chair will be organised at Regional level. The basis on which this might be done is unclear to me and I am awaiting further information.

Although I and other members of the National Executive Council representing Greater London have been given notice of such action in the past, I had no notice of this action and my requests yesterday for an explanation from the Regional Secretary and the Chair of the NEC Development and Organisation Committee have thus far gone unanswered.

I am therefore unable to confirm that there are good grounds for the interventions in these branches. Indeed all the indications are that the action which is being taken breaches our Rule Book, undermines lay democracy and branch autonomy and threatens to waste scarce UNISON resources at a time when our members in local government, health and higher and further education all face the threat of unprecedented cuts in jobs in Greater London."

Another Unison member describes how six officers turned up at Greenwich:
"When Kaz made the point that the Union acting in this way had deeply upset the office staff he was told "we thought you'd be on your own". ... maybe this is a compliment to Kaz as the Region obviously believes it takes two Senior Officials and 4 "organisers" to replace Kaz.

The Regional Official, Dan Pappiett, had told Kaz on Thursday that he would meet with him next week to do a handover. This was obviously a lie. The officials claim that between Thursday and Friday the situation had changed and that they were instructed by the NEC to take the Branch into administration. No reason was given for the NEC decision, if indeed there was one. Instead, the aim of the raiding party is twofold - Firstly, to send a bullying message but secondly to attempt to uncover evidence to lay further charges, just in case the court cases are successful and also no doubt because the ban was reduced by one year.

On entering the Office, Chris Remington from the Regional Office told Kaz to "disappear sharpish". By midday, the Region had organised the changing of the locks to the office. Most disturbing of all is the obvious collusion with the employer. Two days prior to the raid, Kaz received minutes of a TU Liaison meeting that he had attended. In it, it was minuted that "the Branch would be taken into administration and significant decisions would be taken by the Regional Office ".

This was a coordinated and vicious action by the Union to the extent that when the office administrator arrived and turned on the Union computer, it turned out that it had been disabled for membership use centrally".
Behind this seizure of control in London branches is the absurd case we have commented on before, in which members were accused of "racialism" and then of "failing to show due care in not anticipating that someone might take offence", for using the traditional "three wise monkeys" image in a cartoon on a leaflet criticising a union steering committee. The accused have made clear there was no intent to offend, and apologised to anyone who was offended, but that was not good enough.

We might contrast this apparent hypersensitivity and determination to pursue the four members with Unison's performance in the North East, where Yunus Bakhsh was both sacked by the employer and expelled by the union, without regard to the fact that accusations against him were coming from racialists, and a far-Right 'Stormfront' website seemed well-informed about moves against Yunus before he heard anything.

Yunus Bakhsh had upset NHS management by contrasting the rises they had awarded themselves with their meanness towards the workers. Union members said he had also strengthened union organisation in the area. One of Yunus Bakhsh's supporters in the union, Darlington local government branch secretary Alan Doherty wrote at the end of last year saying members had not had a proper opportunity to discuss the case. He went on:

"You may not know that at the same time another SWP member Tony Staunton, Branch Secretary of Plymouth LG, who was to stand in an NEC election against Steve Warwick (Labour Link Chairperson) and stood a good chance of winning, was also witch hunted from the union and expelled. This was followed by Socialist Party member, Pat Lawlor, convenor Royal Victoria Hospitals, Belfast, being expelled for sending a message of support to a ’rival’ union on strike.

In the last few months, three branch secretaries and a branch chair, Glenn Kelly, Susan Muna, Onay Kasab and Brian Debus, in the Greater London Region, all members of the Socialist Party, were disqualified from office ranging from 3 to 5 years for criticising the Standing Orders Committee of National Conference, in a leaflet, for ruling out a third of motions from being admitted on to the conference agenda.

However last month, this witch hunt took a new turn. Caroline Bedale, Joint Branch Secretary of Manchester Community Health Branch, was disqualified from office for eight years - yes eight years. Her crime was supporting one of her victimised members, Karen Reissmann, to get her job back. Apparently such an action has brought Unison into disrepute. I consider from what I know of Caroline’s case, the sanctions imposed against her constitute a direct attack on branch autonomy, Unison lay democracy, and individual civil rights. Caroline is not a member of a left wing political party.

Now it is my turn. What is my crime? Despite being given a hearing date commencing on the 7th January, I do not yet know the charges which will be sent to me within 21 days of the hearing date. I suspect these 21 days will include the Christmas holiday period.

I suspect the charges are to do with an incident precipitated by another branch secretary who complained about my conduct. At the time I was a declared candidate in the NEC elections. I spoke to this branch secretary about a motion that his branch was discussing concerning the North East Shop Stewards Network because this motion directly attacked me and another branch secretary. When was it a crime to talk to other branch secretaries in private? Is it not reasonable that I would want to investigate a public criticism against me?

I have no faith in the Union’s disciplinary procedure being fair, as shown by its recent decisions. I know that unless there is genuine objection from lay activists, my days as a Unison activist are numbered.

I believe the real reason they want me out is that I have challenged, through the democratic process, the actions of our ’leadership’ and also that I express my socialist political opinions which often conflict with the interests of the Labour Party. This is despite the hard work I do to support Darlington LG members at work. During my recent NEC election campaign I was told by several senior Unison officials that the union would move heaven and earth to make sure I was not elected to the NEC.

Our union will prove itself to be unhealthy and undemocratic if it has to use the full might of its disciplinary machinery to silence the criticisms of lay activists".

Tony Staunton's case was classic, and an earlier example of the "dawn raid". That's to say the mid-morning raid. Acting on a complaint that the Plymouth branch secretary might have used union equipment - actually gifted to him by the branch - to produce an unofficial Unison united left leaflet, officials went to his home on a morning when the brother was away in London lobbying against NHS cuts, and seized his lap top, discs, etc.

Though everything he had done was for his members, Staunton was expelled from the union which he had served for more than twenty years.

And sure enough, last month Alan Docherty in Darlington was removed and banned from office for three years.

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Monday, March 08, 2010

Sisters beneath veils, Sisters below stairs

TODAY, March 8, is International Women's Day, and will be marked around the world by various meetings and demonstrations to do with women's particular oppression, the often worse exploitation they suffer in the workplace, the brutality at home and in society at large under backward regimes, and the important part women play in general struggles for humanity, social justice and freedom.

Yesterday I joined a demonstration by Iranian women, and men, outside their country's embassy in London, where calls were made for an end to oppression and stoning of women, an end to compulsory hijab, release of all political prisoners in Iran, and an end to the Islamic regime. Much has been made of the so-called Green Revolution in Iran, and last years' demonstrations were recalled by some tastefully painted green splashes still on the wall in front of the embassy, but I must risk disturbing Western media liberals by reporting that the predominant colour on yesterday's demo was red.

For those Westerners of limited mental capacity who believe that siding with Iranian women or their oppressors depends on aligning with Western imperialism or the Iranian regime, I must add that one of the slogans chanted was "No war in the name of Iranian women", that HOPI (Hands Off the People of Iran) leaflets denouncing sanctions were well received, and that several placards showed hostility to imperialism as much as to the Islamicist republic.

Iran is not the only type of Islamic regime, of course, nor is it (though this is scant comfort to Iranian women and workers) the most reactionary. Saudi Arabia is managing so far without anyone daring to express unrest at home, and without Western interests who do well there troubling too much about conditions under the regime. But now and then issues spill over.

"Saudi and Emirati diplomats in London have been responsible for trafficking domestic staff into Britain, according to reports filed with the government's anti-trafficking agency. The cases of six domestic staff who worked in the London homes of diplomats and senior figures from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have been referred to the Home Office's UK Human Trafficking Centre. According to Kalayaan, a charity which campaigns for justice for migrant domestic workers, the six were moved across borders for exploitation by means of deception or coercion – the international definition of human trafficking.

The alleged involvement of diplomats from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which consists of Dubai and Abu Dhabi as well as five other emirates, emerged after Kalayaan passed on details to the agency of 13 trafficked domestic workers involved with diplomatic missions in London, including one who worked for a diplomat at the South African high commission.

Five of the workers were Indonesian and four were Filipino, while others came from Africa, the Middle East and other parts of Asia. Of the 22 cases the charity referred in the nine months to the end of last year, nine involved someone who had come to work for a diplomat. In some cases, the workers were held under virtual house arrest, not paid and physically abused, according to their own testimonies.

"Many have been deceived about their working and living conditions, the salary they will receive and many are confined to the house and have their passports removed," said Jenny Moss, a community advocate for Kalayaan. "Sometimes they are threatened that if they run away, the police will put them in jail."

In each case, the workers were admitted to the UK legally under a domestic worker visa programme especially for diplomats which prohibits alternative employment outside the diplomatic mission. Diplomats and senior government figures who claim diplomatic status enjoy immunity from prosecution in the UK and no charges have been brought in any of the cases.

One employee for a Middle Eastern diplomat reported that she was forced to work 17-hour days doing all the cooking and cleaning as well as the nanny work without a day off or pay, that she was also subjected to violent attacks by the diplomat and his wife, and that she was barred from leaving the house for six months, except to buy milk.

"From the very first day I was treated like a slave, and it immediately became clear that the diplomat wanted more from me than just to look after his son. He sexually molested me and would become angry when I refused his advances," the worker told Kalayaan. The charity added that it cannot name the country involved for fear the victim could be identified, but made clear it was neither Saudi Arabia or UAE.

Officials at the Saudi embassy in London said it had no knowledge of the allegations which come after a Saudi prince was last week charged with the murder of his assistant in a London hotel. The UAE embassy did not respond to calls.

The all-party parliamentary group for trafficking of women and children, led by Anthony Steen and Clare Short, has raised the problem with immigration minister, Phil Woolas. It wants him to change the visa rules for diplomats' domestic staff to allow them to seek alternative employment, which would give them greater power to escape abusive employers.


The International Union of Food, Catering and Hotel Workers has chosen to focus on domestic workers for International Womens Day:

'Domestic workers around the world are organizing to challenge the harsh, abusive, often slave-like conditions in which they work. They are organizing unions and support networks, and they are mobilizing in support of an international Convention that will finally recognize them as workers and establish their rights in international law.

Domestic work is one of the oldest and most important occupations for many women in many countries. It is linked to the global history of slavery, colonialism and other forms of servitude. In its contemporary manifestations, domestic work is a global phenomenon that perpetuates hierarchies based on race, ethnicity, indigenous status, caste and nationality. In the past two decades demand for care work has been on the rise everywhere. The massive incorporation of women in the labour force, the ageing of societies, the intensification of work and the frequent lack or inadequacy of policy measures to facilitate the reconciliation of family life and work underpin this trend. Today, domestic workers make up a large portion of the workforce, especially in developing countries, and their number has been increasing – even in the industrialized world. Domestic work, nonetheless, is undervalued and poorly regulated, and many domestic workers remain overworked, underpaid and unprotected. Accounts of maltreatment and abuse, especially of live-in and migrant domestic workers, are regularly denounced in the media. In many countries, domestic work is very largely performed by child labourers.

A new report from the ILO - Decent work for domestic workers - concludes that domestic workers need a Convention (the strongest form of ILO instrument which once ratified is a legally binding treaty) supplemented by a Recommendation to protect their rights. The IUF welcomes this conclusion, and on International Women's Day urges affiliates to take action in the runup to the 2010 International Labour Conference , where negotiations will begin in June to develop new international labour standards for the protection of domestic workers.

Support from the international labour movement and from governments will be needed to ensure that the more than 100 million domestic workers around the world have the right to form trade unions and negotiate with employers, to an adequate standard of living, to protection against discrimination, slavery and forced labour and to access to social security and social protection systems.

Kalayaan, by the way, is not just a charity. Domestic workers are not just victims. As a Kalayaan leaflet explains:

"Migrant Domestic Wokers of different nationalities decided to form an organisation upon learning that many of our needs, problems and dreams are shared. Driven by poverty from our countries of birth, we left to support ourselves and give our families a decent livelihood. Here in the UK, we experienced slavery, inequality and discrimination. Alone we were often unable to exercise our own freedom and rights. Our passports were taken from us by employers, we were made to work long hours without pay, proper salaries not paid or delayed, we suffered verbal abuse even physical assault, severe mental threats and sexual harassment."

Kalayaan, established last year as Justice for Domestic Workers, has men as well as women members, and it is supported by Unite the Union, which is helping with training courses combining union organising and health and safety with English and IT skills.

It is fighting for domestic workers' rights not only against mean and cruel employers, but also against immigration laws which can be used to keep migrant workers under the boss's thumb, making it hard for them to look for another job, and laws which they say are being made worse.

As Kalayaan says, "We ...demand respect as workers and human beings"

See also Enslaved by Rahila Gupta (2007), for a moving and hard-hitting expose of how slavery continues behind respectable front doors in modern Britain.

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Friday, March 05, 2010

Film maker seized with family and friends ahead of women's day

OFFSIDE film showed Iranian women wanting to support their country but enchained by regime. Symbolic, but true incident.

Iranian film maker Jafar Panahi has been arrested along with his wife Tahereh Saidi, their daughter and fifteen guests who happened to be at their home. State forces took away many of Panahi’s possessions in the course of the arrest.

Panahi has been unable to attend film festivals abroad since wearing a green scarf at the Montreal Film Festival in 2009. He was arrested briefly after attending the memorial service of murdered student, Neda Agha Soltan.

Panahi is well known for his socially critical films such as the award-winning ‘The Circle’ (Dayareh) which won awards at the Venice Film Festival in 2000 including the prestigious Gold Lion Award, and ‘Offside’, which won the Silver Bear award at the 2006 Berlin Film Festival.

Both expose the crushing inequality of women in today’s Iran. His most famous film in the West, ‘Offside’, is the story of a group of women attempting to sneak into Iran’s football match against Bahrain during World Cup qualifiers. The women are arrested and chained to the railings outside the stadium. From there, they have to listen to the cheers of the all-male crowd watching Iran’s victory.

The campaigning organisation Hands off the People of Iran(HOPI), formed by Iranian exiles and left-wing supporters in Britain, believes the film maker's arrest could well have been timed as a threat to opposition, with International Women's Day coming on Monday, March 8. HOPI says Panahi’s films vividly dramatise the second class status of women in Iran faced and the brutal barriers they face to playing a full and active role in society.

Yassamine Mather, national chair of Hopi, commented:

“Given Panahi’s subject matter, this arrest could be a pre-emptive strike by the regime against potential anti-government protests and demos on International Women’s Day (March 8).

“We call for letters of protest to the Iranian embassy in London and the maximum turn-out on the IWD march starting from outside the building on Saturday, March 7. (Details below).

“We should demand Panahi’s release using our own, militant methods of protests and struggle. But we should have nothing but contempt for the crocodile tears that leaders of imperialist governments that threaten Iran with sanctions and war will no doubt shed over Panahi and others like him.

“The theocracy and imperialism have a symbiotic relationship. Iran uses the pressure of the West to brand any opposition to its rule an imperialist ‘fifth column’; for the West, Iran is a useful bogey-man in a region which is the focus of ‘the war on terror’.”

Hopi calls for the immediate and unconditional release of Jafar Panahi, Tahereh Saidi, their daughter and all political prisoners in Iran. "We call on all progressive and democrats to send letters, emails, fax of protest to the Iranian embassy in their country".

Amnesty International report on Iranian Women

Women act against repression and intimidation in Iran

28 February 2008

The Iranian authorities are continuing to harass activists working to defend women’s rights. Ronak Safarzadeh and Hana Abdi – two Kurdish Iranian activists – currently remain detained without charge or trial. They were arrested in October and November 2007 for peacefully exercising their rights.

The two activists were working as part of The Campaign for Equality, an Iranian women’s rights initiative. Launched in 2006, the campaign aims to collect one million signatures of Iranian nationals to a petition demanding an end to legal discrimination against women in Iran. The group also provides legal training to volunteers – both women and men – who then travel across the country to promote the campaign, and talk to women about their rights and the need for legal reform.

Women in Iran face far-reaching discrimination under the law. They are denied equal rights in marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance. Evidence given by a woman in court is considered only worth half that given by a man. A girl under the age of 13 can be forced to marry a much older man if her father permits it.

With the increase in women’s literacy in the last 30 years and the large number of women students at university, women are increasingly empowered to challenge discrimination. But their efforts are viewed with suspicion by the authorities, who have launched a campaign of intimidation and repression against them. The campaign’s website has been blocked at least seven times by the authorities and its activists are being targeted because of their work.

In August 2007, Nasim Sarabandi and Fatemeh Dehdashti were the first women among the campaign’s activists to receive prison sentences. Detained for 24 hours in January 2007 while collecting signatures in Tehran, they were later sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years, after being charged with “acting against state security by propaganda against the system”.

Over 40 others have been detained in connection with their campaigning activities, including Reza Dowlatshah. He was hosting an educational workshop for the campaign in September 2007, when he was detained for three days and beaten.

Although the obstacles are many, activists are still willing to risk their safety to bring about a fundamental change in how the Iranian authorities treat Iran’s women. As Shadi Sadr, a lawyer currently facing possible imprisonment for her human rights work, says: “My grandmother wasn’t allowed the life she wanted. I was lucky. I achieved everything but the struggle was still hard. I didn’t want the dearest person in my life [my daughter] to have the same troubles.”

These sentiments are echoed by former Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi, “We are a nation bursting with female ability. We are a country blessed with hard-working women desperate to make a contribution, but one hobbled by legalised prejudice and social bigotry. Now more than ever, the women of Iran deserve our support”.

Rather than using its power to repress and intimidate those who protest and demand their rights, Iran’s government should see the work of women’s rights activists and human rights defenders as an asset, and recognize the important contribution that such activists and defenders are making to address discrimination and intolerance and to promote universal human rights for all Iranians.

London demonstration: 7th March 2010 at Noon

Assembly: In front of the Embassy of Islamic Republic of Iran 16 Princes Gate, London SW7 Nearest Underground Station: South Kensington

Hands Off The People of Iran is supporting this demonstration. Chair Yassamine Mather will be one of the speakers

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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Iran trade unionist survives prison attacks. bus workers' leader Mansour Osanloo has survived repeated attacks in prison in recent days, but is still under threat, according to reports smuggled out to democratic rights campaigners.

Mansour, the president of the Executive Committee at Syndicate of Workers of Tehran and Suburbs Bus Company (SWTSBC), has been imprisoned three times. Osanloo has just come out of a 1-week solitary confinement. His latest arrest came in July 2009 and he was sentenced to 5 years in prison for a"activities against national security". He was recently in solitary confinement, only being released after protests from the International Transport Workers Federation.

According to one report, the trade union leader was attacked from behind by an inmate who attempted to stab him, while he was talking to two fellow inmates in the prison courtyard. Osanloo was saved and taken away by his friends’ swift reaction.

The attack happened in front of a prison guard called Hasanpour, and another individual, Moradi, who is the head of inmates in ward 4. Prison guards at first did not react to the attack but disarmed the attacker after other political prisoners who were present at the scene protested the guards’ inaction. The attacker continued to charge Osanloo even after he was disarmed and threatened to kill him later.

On Friday night, Osanloo was in his cell when the same attacker, prisoner Mohammad Hosseini charged towards him with a knife, but was stopped by other prisoners. Then the following morning as he was returning to the prison from Protection and Information Services, Hosseini punched him in the face as the prison guards were watching. Other prisoners and guards showed no reaction to this and tolerated the abuse.

Mansour Osanloo has filed many complaints to the prison authorities regarding this matter. Many other prisoners and even the prison guards present at the scene have stepped forward as witnesses, but so far nothing has been done to prevent the assailant from further attacks, and he continues to strike and threaten to kill Mansour.

The threats and attacks began as soon as Mansour Osanloo was released from solitary.
Mansour has learned from an official that his assailant Hosseini is a former Pasdar (a member of Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution) who is charged with murdering his wife and another person. Because he is from a family of "martyrs and veterans", nothing can be done about him. Mahmoud Moghanian who is in charge of Ward 4 of Gohardasht prison in Karaj, has given Hosseini some duties inside the prison, and he has complete freedom to do as he wishes. He is allowed to enter the offices of Ali Haj Kazemi, Director, and Ali Mohammadi, Assistant Director of the prison. He is also in constant contact with Kermani, Information Director, and Faraji, Information Assistant Director of the prison. Furthermore, every time he returns from their offices, he continues his attacks more viciously.

These kinds of attacks against political prisoners in Gohardasht started a few weeks ago. Initially prison guards raided cells, violently beating the prisoners and destroying their valuables. Attacks increased prior to February 11, when some political prisoners such as Mansour Osanloo and Arzhang Davoudi were transferred to solitary confinement. From then on, death threats against Osanloo continue to grow. Mansour suffers from heart conditions, and friends fear that violent harassment and insecurity puts his life at risk. They strongly suspect that it is the Intelligence Services who are behind the attacks.

Rights campaigners are urging international organisations and trade unionists to demand guarantees for Mansour Osanloo's safety, and campaign for the release of this union leader and all political prisoners.

February 27, 2010

This report has been sent to the following organizations:

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