Saturday, January 29, 2011

On a cold night, cuts protesters turn heat on Lib Dem minister

IT was not quite on the scale of events elsewhere, though one small home-made and hand-written placard said hopefully "TUNIS...CAIRO....LONDON!". But about 150 people braved the cold night air last night to turn out on an anti-cuts demo in the London Borough of Brent, just one of the many going on around the country.

Timed as most people were getting home from work and shopping in busy rush-hour traffic, this demo, organised by umbrella anti-cuts campaign Brent Fightback and Brent Trades Union Council, started with two feeder marches, one setting off from Central Middlesex hospital, in Park Royal, to join another from the College of North West London.

They converged for a rally at the Jubilee Clock, in Harlesden, where there was the Red-Green choir with songs for the occasion, and we were joined by a late but lively contingent from MENCAP. "Don't Cut Us Out!", their banner said.

The particular target for the night was Liberal Democrat MP for Brent Central, Sarah Teather, who not that long ago was happy to speak at rallies opposing health cuts. But then she was in opposition, and her party was in the council, fearing it might have to take on services that the health authority was shedding. (For its own part, the Lib Dem led council managed to close Carlyon Print, a council-backed enterprise that provided employment and training to disabled young people.)

Now the Lib Dems are in the government, and Sarah Teather is Minister of State for Education. When Brent Fightback tried to get her to debate the government's cuts, despite adequate notice and offers of alternative dates, the MP could not make it. So last night Brent TUC president Pete Firmin led a deputation of her constituents in to the MP's surgery to express their concerns to her.

On one point, postman Pete had already ascertained the MP's views, having approached her on behalf of the trades council and his own union, the UCW, to oppose Royal Mail privatisation. He discovered Sarah Teather is all in favour, and that was before she became a minister. In line with her liberal beliefs, I suppose, though I don't know whether it figured large in her election campaign, nor how it squares with the campaign which local Lib Dems ran some years back against closure of neighbourhood post offices. But that was yesterday, and the responsibilities of office are different from the requirements of winning council seats.

On the day that Sarah Teather's Tory senior Michael Gove had said all new schools in London will have to be 'free schools' or academies ( a bully definition of 'freedom'!), yesterday evening's rally began with a speech from Brent NUT secretary Hank Roberts, warning against Gove's plan to take education away from elected local authorities, and reported moves involving two schools locally. Hank, who led resistance to a new academy in Wembley, and made the news exposing excessive head's bonuses at Wembley's Copeland school, said the government's real aim wasn't to hand control to parents, but to hand schools over to business. Pledging his union's opposition to all the cuts and attacks on people's living standards to pay for the bankers' crisis, he said what was happening was "class robbery", and we had to fight it.

After disabled rights campaigner Simone Aspis warned that taking away mobility allowances would leave disabled people prisoners in their homes, while other cuts would deny people care, we had some more songs from the choir, tunes familiar but words directed against the government and the council. Then another local teacher spoke about an issue specific to Brent, highlighted by several colourful placards, some showing kingfishers. A nature study centre at the famous Welsh Harp reservoir is facing closure. Each year this facility is visited by some 3,000 children and used by 800 teachers in the borough. "For many local kids it is their first taste of the countryside. For the disabled kids it's their only chance to get close to a tree".

"Cuts cost Lives", read one big hand-painted banner, erected across the road. "Cuts ruin Lives", said another.

Pete Firmin announced that two Labour councillors had joined the rally, then told us the arrangements for people to call on Ms. Teather. After more songs, and speeches from a worker at Brent Law Centre, an activist in Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group, Carole, an RMT delegate to Brent TUC pledging her union's support, and retired teacher and vetran SWP activist Sarah Cox, we moved up the road to the Methodist Church, where Teather was holding her surgery, and while the delegation went in we took up the chants -"No 'If's, no 'But's, No Education Cuts", "No 'If's, no 'Buts', no Public Sector Cuts" , and "Sarah Teather, Shame on You! Shame on You for turning Blue!", as well as some calling for the MP and minister to resign.

Brent Fightback and Brent TUC are urging people to join the TUC's March for the Alternative on March 26.

Meanwhile back at the Unison branches...

Around 100,000 jobs across the public sector have been cut in the past six weeks alone, according to a dossier published by public service union Unison last week. "This dossier of Con-demned jobs makes very grim reading", said the union's general secretary Dave Prentiss.

"Behind every statistic there are families desperate to keep a roof over their heads, food on the table and the dignity of a decent job. With unemployment up to 2.5 million, the coalition's cuts are blighting lives and wrecking the country's chances of recovery. Sacking workers and closing down essential services will not put the economy back on its feet."

The jobs lost over the past six weeks include 1,600 at the Heart of England NHS Trust, 1,200 council jobs in Hampshire, 1,000 in Norfolk and 400 in East Sussex. Unison said this showed that the £20 billion NHS "efficiency savings" demanded by the government have translated into job losses and "nail the lie" that health funding is being ring-fenced.

He called on the government to adopt an "alternative political vision to boost economic recovery" and keep people in work.

>With thousands more council jobs threatened, and the government's plan to chop up and effectively privatise the NHS, Unison will have to do something better than wishful thinking that the Tories and Lib Dems are going to change course. Especially when Labour in office was not exactly willing to listen to its union backers or tell the bankers where to get off.

Yesterday came news that should help Unison adopt a more adequate response. An Employment Tribunal ruled that the union had acted unlawfully in excluding four activists from their posts. The four - Glenn Kelly, Brian Debus, Onay Kasab and Suzanne Muna, - were all members of the Socialist Party, and many people in Unison and other unions suspected this was the real reason they were picked on, rather than the charges that were trumped up. All four are also committed to defending jobs and services and protecting workers' rights, against whatever government.

Anyway, the Tribunal has ruled that all four should be re-instated in their union positions and that Glenn Kelly be allowed to resume his place on Unison's national executive. Supporters are planning to lobby the executive on February 8 to honour the tribunal's decisions.

This looks like a good opportunity for Unison to adopt an "alternative political vision", and to back its members who want to fight the government, instead of the union fighting them.

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Secret Papers, and the Hidden Hand

WHILE politicians at Westminster talked about "democracy", MI6 headquarters, across the bridge at Vauxhall, drew up plans to place Palestinians under police state.

THE so-called 'Palestine Papers' - hitherto secret documents from the Palestine Authority - have roused a storm of anger among the Palestinian people and their friends, but also a ferment of serious political discussion. The Palestinians are not alone in the Middle East, in being the subject of others' secret diplomacy, conspiracy and intrigues.

Great Powers' secret treaties, land sold by absentee owners, UN votes rigged and paid for, Arab regimes sowing division while claiming to speak for them, their very existence as a people denied; and when that fails, attempts to destroy it. Against all this they have struggled for independence, managed to create their own institutions, and asserted their right to decide their own fate.

But the latest scandal concerns the leadership in these institutions, and specifically President Mahmoud Abbas and his ministers, the Palestine Authority which -encouraged by Britain and the United States - resisted the election of the opposition Hammas, and collaborated with Israel, even when the right-wing Israeli coalition was waging war on Palestinians in Gaza, expanding settlements in the West Bank, and doing everything to humiliate even peaceable Palestinians.

The leaked papers, featured by the Guardian newspaper and al Jazeera, confirm some of the worst suspicions and allegations made against Abbas and the PA leaders. They indicate that the Palestinian president was fully behind the Israeli siege and war on Gaza, even though these were opposed by many Israelis. They show the West Bank-based PA prepared to accept Israeli settlement and annexation of former Arab areas in and around East Jerusalem, effectively separating any Palestinian state from its rightful capital and dividing the West Bank into two regions. The right of return for Palestinian refugees was to be dropped, rather than merely saved for future negotiation.

It was conceivable that these papers were initially obtained and 'leaked', if not fabricated, by someone on the Israeli side, with a view to boasting of Palestinian support and acceptance for Israel's policies, embarrassing and undermining the Palestinian leadership, and even dismantling the pretence of peace talks. While some Israelis are saying the papers show how the Palestinian negotiators bent over backwards to get the talks going and it was Israel's leaders who were unreasonable, right-wing Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is saying they show Israel can get what it wants without needing to make any concessions, and go ahead with expansionism.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and other officials have moved from dismissing the documents as forgeries to denouncing the motives of those leaking them, accusing the authorities in Qatar, on whose territory al Jazeera is based, of wanting to boost Hamas. In fact, though Hamas might be expected to make use of the revelations, many Palestinians who are far from relishing the thought of Hamas as an alternative, and blamed Palestine Authority corruption for the Islamicists' gains in the first place, say the documents show the need for a major political change in Palestinian society.

Meanwhile, it is not only the Palestinian leadership who are being shown up. Take the British government, which, whatever party is in office, and whatever its armed forces are doing elsewhere in the Middle East, has pretended to be an honest broker for peace, wanting to deliver democracy in the region, and believing in a "two state solution" - though of course it only gives the dignity of recognition to one of them. Since British prime ministers have been as happy attending Zionist fundraising dinners as securing lucrative business with the Saudis and other Arab regimes, perhaps the "two-faced solution" would be a better description of British policy.

To be fair, British diplomats and officials have sometimes done their best to uphold standards of decency, only to be thwarted by those above. Five years ago we commented on another "leak", a report drawn up for the European Union by British consular officials in Jerusalem, which was then officially suppressed by the Blair government using Britain's spell in EU presidency.

When Hamas was elected in what outside observers testify was a relatively free and fair election, Britain acted with Israel and the USA to punish the Palestinian people for this exercise in democracy, by stopping funds. It has continued allowing trade with illegal settlements, while conniving at the blockade of Gaza even though building materials from Britain are held up, and when British citizens and vessels are captured on the high seas. And we won't forget how the relief charities' appeal for war torn Gaza was banned by the BBC.

So it is no surprise to read from the leaked PA documents what Palestinians, even the most moderate, made of Britain's "peace envoy", Tony Blair:

"The overall tone, without making any judgement as to intent, is paternalistic and frequently uses the style and jargon of the Israeli occupation authorities," complained a memo by the PA's negotiations support unit reviewing his proposals. "Some of the terms (eg 'separate lanes' and 'tourist-friendly checkpoints') are unacceptable to Palestinians."

("Separate lanes" presumably refers to the way Israeli occupation authorities have gone one better than Apartheid South Africa or the Southern US, with their segregated public transport, by developing segregated highways!)

In February 2008, Blair is recorded as telling the quartet – made up of the UN, US, EU and Russia – that he has a good relationship with Israel's defence minister, Ehud Barak. But he warns that the current approach to the Gaza Strip – under siege since the Hamas takeover – "is wrong and needs to change immediately". Blair found it "discouraging" that there had been no progress since the Annapolis conference, and feared "bad consequences". But a Russian diplomat present at the meeting "got the impression that Blair was talking like Bush's representative".

Blair agreed with Salam Fayyad, the PA's prime minister, on the need to "pacify and stabilise Gaza so that it does not destabilise us: that means ceasefire, opening crossings, engaging Egypt to play a role."

Israel needed to be encouraged to make confidence-building measures to "stabilise and improve the situation in the West Bank". Blair said, though he also passed on the concerns of Israel's Shin Bet security service about the too-speedy release of prisoners.

One draft document refers to a demand by the quartet that Israel should not bomb a project Blair is involved with. "Israel must assure it will spare site military action," the quartet reference reads. The tone of the Palestinian response is angry: "Are they serious? We will implicitly condone criminal acts against civilian targets but please make sure you don't harm investor interest."

    Tony Blair Visits Palestinian West Bank

    RED CARPET welcome and guard of honour for Blair with Mahmoud Abbas. Documents tell a different story.

    Just what kind of aid Britain brought to the Palestinian Authority is also worth noting. Some people were discussing what to do about Hamas, how to avoid a bitter split between Palestinians, and whether the Islamicist party, for all its militant rhetoric and tactics, could be brought into peace negotiations, as favoured by its voters if not its manifesto. Hamas did declare a unilateral cease fire, only to have it ignored by the Israeli military, proceeding to its war on Gaza.

    The British intelligence service, MI6, was in no doubt what to do, it seems. The leaked papers show it drew up a strategy for the Palestinian Authority to crush Hamas and other groups. The strategy included internment of leaders and activists, closure of radio stations and replacement of imams in mosques.

    "Two documents drafted by the Secret Intelligence Service in conjunction with other Whitehall departments, which are among the cache given to al-Jazeera TV and shared with the Guardian, are understood to have been passed to Jibril Rajoub, former head of PA security in the West Bank, at the beginning of 2004 by an MI6 officer then based at the British consulate in Jerusalem.

    The evidence uncovered by the leaked documents highlights the role British officials and security advisers have played in creating and bolstering the PA administration in the West Bank, which is backed and financed by the US, the EU and most Arab states as it pursues what are now all but moribund peace talks with Israel.

    The British papers, one of which is headed Palestinian Security Plan – Confidential, included detailed proposals for a new security taskforce based on the UK's "trusted PA contacts" outside the control of "traditional security chiefs", a British/US security "verification team", and "direct lines" to Israeli intelligence.

    Issues include suicide bombing, weapons smuggling, Qassam rockets and "terror finance". The SIS and other leaked British official documents have been independently authenticated by the Guardian.

    In the most controversial section, the 2004 MI6 plan recommends "Degrading the capabilities of the rejectionists – Hamas, PIJ [Palestinian Islamic Jihad] and the [Fatah-linked] Al Aqsa Brigades – through the disruption of their leaderships' communications and command and control capabilities; the detention of key middle-ranking officers; and the confiscation of their arsenals and financial resources".

    The document adds: "We could also explore the temporary internment of leading Hamas and PIJ figures, making sure they are well-treated, with EU funding" – reflecting a concern to distance the intelligence agency from the PA security organisations' established reputation for prisoner abuse.

    The MI6 strategy, which was drawn up to implement George Bush's Middle East "road map" as the second Palestinian intifada was winding down, can then be traced through a sequence of more public Palestinian, EU and British documents and plans, and has now been largely implemented by the US and British-advised PA security apparatus.

    The former MI6 officer Alistair Crooke, who worked for the EU in Israel and the Palestinian territories, said today that the documents reflected a 2003 decision by Tony Blair to tie UK and EU security policy in the West Bank and Gaza to a US-led "counter-insurgency surge" against Hamas – which backfired when the Islamists won the 2006 elections.

    Leaked British documents begins with an unmarked but detailed MI6 draft of the security plan, faxed from the Egyptian embassy, at a time when the agency was working closely with Egyptian intelligence; continues with the second more formal paper jointly drafted by SIS, which floats internment; and is then translated into a series of official papers drafted by the Jerusalem consulate's military liaison office, which liaises with British special forces, the SAS and SBS.

    The documents confirm that by 2005, British projects under the Palestinian security plan – first drafted and passed to the PA under MI6 auspices – included extensive funding of the most controversial parts of the PA security apparatus, including general intelligence, special forces and preventive security under the heading of "UK-Palestinian projects".

    The last in particular has been the subject of repeated and widespread allegations and evidence of torture, including by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. More recently, the British government has denied directly funding the PA's preventive security.

    US general Keith Dayton, who, along with a string of British deputies was in charge of building up Palestinian security forces as US security co-ordinator for Israel and the Palestinian territories until last October, is recorded in the leaked Palestinian records as complaining about torture by PA intelligence in a meeting with chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat in June 2009. "The intelligence guys are good. The Israelis like them," Dayton says. "But they are causing some problems for international donors because they are torturing people", adding: "I've only started working on this very recently. I don't need to tell you who was working with them before" – in an apparent reference to the CIA.

    Many of those now arrested and detained in the West Bank appear to have no connection to any armed group or activity. Records of a May 2008 meeting between Israeli general Amos Gilad and the head of PA security forces, Major General Hazem Atallah, refer to a senior Israel security official identified as "Poly" who asked: "How is your fight against 'civilian' Hamas: the offices, people in municipalities etc? This is a serious threat."

    Atallah is recorded as replying: "I don't work at political level, but I agree we need to deal with this" – to which Poly retorts: "Hamas needs to be declared illegal by your president. So far it is only the militants that are illegal."

    On an ironic note, in connection with a leaked PA security document from 2005, which confirms the central role played by British officials in "unifying Palestinian security efforts" , the Guardian recalls that "Abed Alloun, a Liverpool football fan, told the Guardian in 2003 he had been flown by MI6 to Britain and taken to see Liverpool play at Anfield and given a ball signed by Michael Owen".

    In this respect he was better treated than the Palestinian under-19 football side who were invited to Britain to train and play a few charity matches. The British consulate in East Jerusalem saw to it they could not get visas to travel. David Miliband who had just become Foreign Secretary was less than forthcoming with an explanation for this. Perhaps MI6 did not tell him.

    Still, poor old Abed Alloun was later blown up by a bomb.

    Palestinians, angered by the treachery and duplicity revealed in these documents, and encouraged by the risings on the streets in Tunisia and Egypt (as well as the emergence in Gaza of youth declaring a plague on both the houses of the PA and Hamas) are seeing the need for their society to undergo a seismic political change.

    They are not the only ones.

    On the banned football side:

    Some thoughts from Karma Nabulsi :


PALESTINIAN students demanding direct elections to the Palestine National Council have occupied the Palestinian embassy in London for a sit-in. Ambassador Manuel Hassassian told them it was their embassy and they were welcome to the premises.

Karma Nabulsi gave a talk during the sit in.

Police arrived at the Hammersmith premises, but the students said they wanted to make sure their views were conveyed before they would withdraw.

For more reports and press statement see:

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Bitter Tea, Common Threads

TEA plantation workers near Darjeeling

TEA workers employed by a giant company with world-wide sales are waging a struggle for basic human rights and decent treatment.

Workers on the Nowera Nuddy Tea Estate in West Bengal, India protested over the treatment of a tea plucker in an advanced stage of pregnancy who was denied maternity leave and forced to work. Management tried to starve them into submission by denying all wages and rations for 3 months. Criminal charges carrying lengthy prison sentences have been filed against 12 workers - including the pregnant woman who collapsed in the field and was denied immediate medical care.

Two workers, including her father, have been sacked from their jobs. And management continues to reject the union's long standing demands, responding instead with more threats.

Nowera Nuddy Tea Estate is owned by Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited, a company 49% owned by Tata Global Beverages, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of India’s powerful Tata Group conglomerate.

Tata's Tetley Tea is 100% Tata-owned, and sources tea from Amalgamated - though not, it claims, from Nowera Nuddy, an argument it has employed to excuse itself from responsibility for brutal management practices at Nowera Nuddy. Tetley is the second biggest-global tea brand, and a leading member of the UK's Ethical Tea Partnership.

International union web-site:

Meanwhile, across the border in Bangladesh it has now been more than five weeks since the illegal arrest of Moshrefa Mishu, President of the Garment Workers Unity Forum.

There was no warrant for her arrest at the time that heavily-armed plainclothes officers took her off to jail, where she remains - in poor health and badly treated. Her real crime was leading a protest campaign to demand the implementation of the legal minimum wage.

For more information about Moshrefa Mishu and her case, and ways to protest her treatment, see

Garment trade employers in Bangladesh are their country's main exporter, but claim they have been under pressure from even cheaper competitors in places like Cambodia . So it is timely to note that Cambodian garment workers are also engaged in struggle.

Over 300 have been sacked after they went on strike last September, asking for a wage increase that would ensure basic provisions such as sufficient nutrition and shelter. Well known brands such as Gap, Zara and H&M source from a large number of the involved factories.

Campaigners are urging that these workers are allowed to return to work immediately, with compensation paid for the time they have been dismissed:

And the Cambodian embassy in London might want to hear from you, as it already has been doing from Brent Trades Union Council, since it is in that borough. (see

Royal Cambodian Embassy in the UK,
64, Brondesbury Park,
Willesden Green,
London NW6 7AT
020 8451 7850
Fax 020 8451 7594

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Making Sense in a Nonsense World

IN a world where food rots while millions starve, where building workers are unemployed while families are denied a roof over their head; where City bank buildings and bonuses soar ever higher, the deeper nations are in debt; and states amass weapons that can destroy the planet thrice and four times over, while scientists tell us we are destroying it anyway, can anything make sense?

In the Land some call Holy, proclaimed a refuge by the UN, which still affects to care for those thus made into refugees, generations after; a land to which I can "Return" by law, though I never lived there, whereas those who did are forcibly kept out; and where a security fence separates farmers from their land, while new settlers claim the Bible's authority to break all Ten Commandments and more besides; is anyone trying to create a space for reason and humanity?

The late Arna Mer-Khamis did. An Israeli woman who had fought in her nation's War of Independence, then married a Palestinian; a communist who looked beyond state boundaries and the obviously "political", a mother who saw children robbed of their childhood by war and occupation. Arna had the vision to found a theatre for children, right in the heart of Jenin refugee camp. An oasis. Where they can find respite, not to forget the surrounding troubles, which would be impossible, but to rise above them, gaining not just entertainment but education and training to express themselves.

Jenin's Freedom Theatre has been trashed by Israeli occupation troops and attacked by other forces, its director, Arna's son Juliano has been threatened by Zionists and abused by self-claimed 'friends' of the Palestinians while campaigning to raise support abroad, but the theatre has won more serious friends in the Palestinian community, and the world outside, as well as the delight and love of youngsters.

The Freedom Theatre has offered not just plays and participation in dance and drama, but training for young Palestinian writers, film makers and artists. This is surely a part of a nation's rising? And just to show how truly human culture and imagination can break through any imposed separation barriers, the Freedom Theatre’s new, most ambitious production yet, due to open on January 23, at 15.00, is Alice in Wonderland .

Here's their introduction:

"This, our largest production to date, is performed by our Acting School students and is not only a theatre performance, but combines dance, music, flying actors, special light effects and magical costumes to present a fantastic and colourful experience for children as well as the rest of the family!

The play is an adaptation of the famous novel Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, written by Lewis Carroll in 1865. It tells the story of a young girl whose curiosity causes her to fall down a rabbit hole, entering a fantasy world populated by peculiar and anthropomorphic creatures. It represents the child's struggle to survive in the confusing world and of adults and their seemingly arbitrary behaviour. To understand this world, Alice has to overcome the open-mindedness that is characteristic for children.

In The Freedom Theatre’s adaptation of the story, which is directed by The Freedom Theatre’s General Director Juliano Mer Khamis, Alice escapes a reality of poverty, oppression and conservatism where she is constrained to doing chores in the home, into a new Wonderland where she meets fantastic characters who reflect and challenge her previous life experiences. Through her encounters Alice reflects upon her own identity as she is continuously forced to question what she considers “right” and “wrong”, “normal” and “abnormal”.

The Freedom Theatre has already been joined by a large number of highly professional international volunteers who are sharing their time and expertise to make the play a memorable experience for the thousands of Palestinian children we hope will be able to see it.

Directed by:
Juliano Merr-Khamis (Palestine)
Zoe Lafferty (United Kingdom)

Bringing Lewis Carrol's creation to Jenin will not free its youngsters from the reality of a boy killed in Gaza when troops opened fire, or of Jawaher Abu Ramah who died from tear gas inhalation at Bil'in on New Years Day. She had been looking after younger family members after her brother was killed on an earlier demonstration. It will not provide shelter for the familes made homeless by house demolitions in occupied esast Jerusalem and in Lydd. Near Jenin itself two men died recently in shooting incidents at an Israeli army roadblock. The struggle continues.

But if it is "better to light a small candle than forever curse the dark", it cannot be wrong to light up hope, imagination and courage in the minds of a new generation, to let them know they are entitled to happiness and to reach out for something more than the world has so far given them. That is not a distraction, it is right at the heart of the freedom struggle.


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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Kicking away the ladder, as young swell dole queues

IT'S OFFICIAL. Unemployment is climbing in Britain, even though public service cuts and sackings have barely begun. Overall unemployment has risen to 2.5 million, the highest it has been since the last time the Tories were in.

A record number of young people are out of work, one in five 16 to 24 year olds , according to the latest figures. The overall unemployment rate is now 7.9 per cent, but for 16 to 24-year-olds it is 20.3 per cent. Martina Milburn, chief executive of youth charity The Prince's Trust, said: 'Britain is now perilously close to seeing one million young people struggling to find work.

'At this time when there is huge pressure on the public purse, Government, charities and employers must work together to help young people into jobs and save the state billions.'

The government gave its answer this evening. MPs voted by a majority of 59 votes to scrap the Educational Maintenance Allowances (EMA) which were introduced by Labour to encourage teenagers to stay in education, by helping those from poorer families. Labour's education spokesman, Andy Burnham, told MPs that social mobility would be "thrown into reverse" by their abolition. He said it was an attack on the aspirations of young people.

The allowances are means tested, and range between £10 and £30 per week.

Tory Education Secretary Michael Gove claimed the grant had been "poorly targeted" adding "Choices are dependent on the money - and where is the money coming from?" Speaking as it had become clear that the banks were once again paying out billions in bonuses, and the government's VAT rises will be adding to new inflation, the minister insisted "You cannot spend money you do not have".

The ASCL head teachers' union criticised the scrapping of the allowances as "absolutely the wrong move" and a "false economy".

While some students held a teach-in in a Houses of Parliament committee room, others marched from Piccadilly Circus to Westminster to protest the scrapping of the allowances. "The government think they can get away with targeting vulnerable people," said Tali Janner-Klausner, 19, a part-time student at City Lit college. "Some of the cabinet are millionaires and the government's propped up by big business… they don't understand what £30 a week means to many people."

Earlier, commenting on the youth jobless figures, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: 'We face a real danger of losing another generation of young people to unemployment and wasted ambition. By abolishing EMA, pricing young people out of university and cutting support to get them back into work, the Government is punishing youngsters for a mess they didn't cause.

'Employment is now falling at its fastest rate since the recession and many of those finding work are settling for insecure temporary work. With the worst of the cuts still to come, this government risks making high joblessness a permanent feature of our economy. It must change course before it's too late.'

Poor kids not welcome at the 'Bankers' School' - (but it's nothing to do with class, so we're told)

NOW, just to show the bankers are interested in more than profit and bonuses, and the Tories are not just mean skinflints, here's a heart warming tale from the London borough of Wandsworth, where else. I've commented before on the Tory borough's enterprising ways of disposing of housing stock, back in the 1980s, and now it is showing its generosity with education.

Born in Battersea, Viscount Henry St.John Bolinbroke, the Elizabethan statesman was educated like David Cameron, at Eton. The Bolingbroke Academy, being built on the site of the former Bolingbroke hospital, is being supported by some equally illustrious names from the City, among them NM ­Rothschild, Credit Suisse, Citi Group, Barclays Capital, Coutts, Normura, HSBC, Morgan Stanley and RBS.

Some 29 people opposed plans to redevelop the site for flats, and parents who want it to be one of the government's promised "free schools" are being helped by the Ark education charity.

But to set the ball rolling, Tory-controlled Wandsworth council is spending £13million buying the site and more public cash will be needed to convert it into a school. The estimated bill to the taxpayers for running the academy will be £6million a year.
Still, everyone with kids can look forward to the advantages of having a new well-resourced school in the neighbourhoood, right? Wrong.

Just 1.3.miles from the new school is Falconbrook primary, The majority of its pupils are from working class families whose average wage is £33,280 a year. And recent Ofsted reports reveal many of the kids have learning difficulties and ­“behavioural problems”. Some are up to a year behind in their learning progress.

Bolinbroke Academy will not take children from Falconbrook. But those from four other schools in the area will be accepted.

Wix Lane primary, is 1.5 miles away but families of pupils there earn an annual average wage of £81,120, according to figures compiled by the GMB union. That’s almost twice the average £43,680 wage in the capital. Ofsted reports it as a “good” school, the second highest grading. The remaining three, Belleville, High View and Honeywell, are all in areas with higher than average incomes.

Labour MP Lisa Nandy said: “This is a shocking indictment on the Government’s policy on free schools, transferring money from the poor to the rich.

GMB spokesman Paul Maloney said bankers who had to be bailed out with billions of pounds of taxpayers’ cash had “acquired a taste for using public money to fund their pet projects”.

He called on Deputy PM Nick Clegg and his ministers to ­intervene to stop the “grab for public money by a small group from a well heeled area”.

Mr Maloney added: “This spending on the bankers free school is a disgrace as there are surplus places in existing schools in the borough.

“These schools are in desperate need of capital investment to upgrade and maintain them and funds for this have been cut.”

A spokeswoman denied class was at the centre of the decision to snub Falconbrook school.

She added: “There is nothing sinister going on.”

I'm sure there isn't. Just something dextrous.

Thanks to my fellow blogger 'Stroppy Bird' for drawing attention to this, and to the Daily Mirror for the story.

Read more:

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A call to order from Bob (as opposed to A Life of Brian)

THE trial of six environmental protesters who were accused of conspiring to occupy Ratcliff power station in Nottinghamshire has collapsed after information surfaced about the role of an undercover police officer called Mark Kennedy who spent some time in their ranks and some say acted as agent provocateur.

"I have no doubt that our attempts to get disclosure about Kennedy's role has led to the collapse of the trial", said their lawyer Mike Schwartz. "It is no coincidence that, just 48 hours after we told the CPS our clients could not receive a fair trial unless they disclosed material about Kennedy, they halted the prosecution.

"Given that Kennedy was, until recently, willing to assist the defence, one has to ask if the police were facing up to the possibility their undercover agent had turned native."

Some 20 protesters who had already been convicted are likely to appeal. The police agent has quit the force and reportedly gone abroad.

Some of us in the organised labour movement and conventional Marxist Left are inclined to assume our superiority to the hairy protesters who lack our discipline, our theories on the state, and leadership's insistence on "security"; and yet not for the first time, it has been the "loose", libertarians and Greens who have uncovered the cuckoo in their nest, whereas self-proclaimed revolutionary 'vanguards' have more than once been taken for a ride by amateurs.

Then again, when it comes to sowing friction, causing or exacerbating divisions,and disrupting the growth of our movement, could any police agent, however much trained to excel at such activity, do half as much damage as we manage to inflict on our selves?

This week I received an invitation from the National Shop Stewards Network:
The combination of £81bn in spending cuts and so-called reforms pursued by this Con-Dem coalition amounts to an unprecedented attack on the public sector and its workforce. The cuts, which are being implemented under the guise of deficit reduction, are ideological, motivated by a political desire to destroy the welfare state as we know it. Across our movement, trade unionists and service users are coming together to co-ordinate local campaigns of resistance against these cuts.

The recent demonstrations and occupations by students against the 300% increase in tuition fees and removal of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) have shaken the government, exposing the coalition as weak and vulnerable to effective action. The students' demonstrations and occupations have been an inspiration to the emerging movement and could mark a turning point in the resistance to the cuts.

One of the problems we face today is the plethora of organisations that exist to defend services and oppose the cuts. We urgently need a united response to the Con-Dem austerity package that brings together trade unionists and service users in a single united campaigning group. In addition, we have seen very little in the way of industrial resistance to the cuts thus far, despite the fact that thousands upon thousands of jobs are set to go before this April from local government alone. The NSSN has a unique role in the labour movement as it brings together trade unionists in a network that can strengthen the vital labour movement component in the resistance and give confidence and practical solidarity to workers as they struggle against the cuts, whether the employer is central government, an NHS Trust or a local authority, whatever its political complexion.

The NSSN Conference on 22nd January will feature an important debate about the network's role in the anti-cuts movement, which is likely to be decisive in determining the organisation's future. The meeting of the majority of current NSSN Officers held on 5th January unanimously agreed that the NSSN should seek to build unity between the existing anti-cuts bodies and to oppose any attempt to further fragment the developing but still fragile anti-cuts movement. We urge all NSSN supporters and like minded trade unionists to attend our conference to help ensure that the NSSN plays a positive role in unifying the emerging anti-cuts movement and in building support for the sort of industrial action that will be crucial to beating back the coalition's attacks.

It is a few years now since I squeezed my bulk into a crowded meeting at Euston, called by the RMT rail union, to discuss the crisis of working class political representation. Tony Blair had dismissed the trade unions which backed Labour as just another 'interest group', and discredited his government by lying his way to an unpopular war. New Labour stuck to old Tory union laws, and privatised railways, and pushed the Tory agenda further with academies and private finance initiatives. Labour Party conferences had turned into rallies, and Labour ministers and fundraisers moved closer to dodgy businessmen and away from their supporters.

Bob Crow and his sisters and brothers had done their homework. They were proud that it was the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants, one of the forerunners of the RMT, that pioneered the turn by British unions away from dependence on the Liberals, to set up their own Labour Party. That was after the notorious Taff Vale case against the union. Now union lawyers testified that workers had fewer rights under this Labour government than their grandparents had enjoyed a century ago under the Liberals.

After Bro. Crow had suggested we were at another historic turning point, two of the leading lights of the Socialist Workers' Party were on their feet, asserting there was no need to found a new party, it was already up and running (they were not talking about their own group but about Respect, for which they had dumped the Socialist Alliance to hitch on Galloway's wagon). In fact, they said, the RMT leader had missed the train. But they had a suggestion. If Bob wanted to help workers' struggles he could do something really useful by backing a shop stewards' network. I thought this concession was jolly decent of them.

The RMT did call a meeting with other unions, and the National Shop Stewards Network was formally launched at a conference in July 2007. Since then its annual conferences have provided a platform for workers in struggle in different industries and services, even different countries, to meet up, but they have been something more. As Martin Wicks' Solidarity pointed out in a leaflet before that first conference "Two of the key tests of the success or failure of the Network will be; the extent to which it is possible to build networks in the localities; the degree to which they will be able to draw in, newer, less politicised reps. Undoubtedly Trades Councils can play a role here... The Trades Council is historically the natural point of support for workers involved in disputes, seeking the assistance of local unions."

To which I would add that as organisations of trade unionists in the community, local trades councils can also provide a focus for unity between organised workers, community campaigns, unemployed workers and others whom we need to organise. In this period of recession and cuts that is also important for the National Shop Stewards Network. When I heard Bristol RMT member Alex Gordon propose towards the close of the conference two years ago that the following year's conference be confined to workplace representatives I couldn't help retorting that by then a lot of people there might not have a workplace to represent.

The NSSN has shown that it could outgrow its label. At last years conference it was good to hear speakers from Athens and other cities in conflict giving some idea of what we might face. But some other things have happened to complicate things. First, though SWP members were taking part alongside others, so that for instance we were able to back both SWP and Socialist Party members under attack from management and their own union in the NHS, the SWP seems to have decided the National Shop Stewards Network had too much Socialist Party influence for its taste. It did not quite mirror the Socialist Party walk out from the Socialist Alliance over the SWP taking control. It just set up its own Right to Work Campaign, holding its own conference and demonstrations, and trying to intervene in disputes as well as lead the fight against the cuts.

A document for the SWP conference says that even where there is an existing anti-cuts campaign in an area, the SWP members should set up a separate Right to Work campaign besides. Meanwhile, the people who left or were expelled from the SWP around former leaders Lindsey German and John Rees, and the online journal Counterfire are engaged in the Coalition of Resistance, which was fronted by old Labour stalwart Tony Benn to call its own national conference, with pre-arranged distinguished speakers, as well as setting up local groups. That's fine until you hear from people who were already campaigning and had established local committees that coalition supporters have turned up telling them they are wasting their time, and trying to set up coalition of resistance groups to compete with them. Why trouble with working at the grass roots when you can bring in astro-turf?

One might dismiss these complaints as just pertaining to personal differences or a touch of over-enthusiasm in one area, if it wasn't for the deja vu feeling from past experience with fronts like Unite Against Fascism. It seems setting up a new movement does not do away with old habits. But besides the smart, impressive, website at which I've just had a glance, it seems there is something new about Counterfire. Looking through its statement of aims I did eventually come across the word 'socialism' . I could not find the words 'worker' or 'working class'. I guess we are history. Not that there's much of that. Maybe I should have looked harder, but I didn't see anything explaining who the Counterfire founders were or where they came from politically.
A lifetime in the SWP? Like Mrs.Lot we mustn't look back, it seems!

We're used to the idea that, like the guy who passed a lonely time on a desert island erecting two places of worship ("That other one is the one I will never go to"),the Left cannot campaign on any issue without having at least two rival campaigns. It is not always true, but the way we can denounce each other, over differences that an outsider cannot see, has been satirised in A Life of Brian, and people are ruefully familiar with it. But now, besides the two national bodies claiming the right to lead the anti-cuts campaign, there's a third development. It has been heralded in a war of e-mails to supporters of the National Shop Stewards Network.

Here is one from national chair Dave Chapple, a Bridgwater post worker and UCW branch secretary, and signed by seventeen other steering committee members:

"We are drawing attention to the disastrous outcome of the Steering Committee of the National Shop Stewards’ Network (NSSN) meeting on Saturday 4th December.
The majority in the meeting, who were Socialist Party (SP) members, voted through a series of decisions despite the opposition of absolutely everyone else, of various political affiliations and none.

"The meeting decided to propose that the anti-cuts conference being organised by the NSSN on January 22nd should set up an “NSSN All-Britain Anti-Cuts campaign” and the election of a committee at the conference, which would be separate from the existing NSSN structures. As supporters of the NSSN, we are aware that the NSSN and its supporters are already working, locally, regionally and nationally in opposition to the government’s attacks on our public services and jobs. The NSSN has an immense task in helping to build for effective action which can begin to beat back these attacks, although it is noteworthy that the original proposal put forward by the Socialist Party omitted any mention of the NSSN working to organise industrial action against the public sector attacks.

"However, to agree that the NSSN has an important contribution to make to the anti-cuts movement is a long way from agreeing to the need for it to launch yet another national anti-cuts campaign. At a time when there is pressure for anti-cuts campaigns to work together – witness the protocol agreed between the Coalition Of Resistance and the Right To Work campaign; the forum on December 5th organised by Right To Work on working together; and the pending meeting called by the Trade Union Coordinating Group on December 14th – the creation of yet another group can only be seen as counterproductive. That the NSSN participated in the forum on December 5th and intend to take part in the meeting on December 14th stands in stark contrast to this move.

This brought a "Reply to Dave Chapple" signed by NSSN secretary Linda Taaffe, a London teacher formerly on the NUT executive, and Socialist Party member, and two other steering committee members:

"The real facts of what happened are the following. After a debate in the Steering Committee lasting around three hours and 39 attending, where all those wanting to speak did speak, a vote was taken. On a show of hands Dave’s view did not prevail. Behind the disparate opposition to the NSSN majority is a clear difference on programme, strategy, and tactics and this will now go to the Conference for debate. This isn’t a crime but normal democratic trade union procedure.

"The decision of the NSSN Steering Committee was taken 10 days ago. Only now, on the eve of a meeting of the Trade Union Coordinating Group (TUCG) of the left unions in the TUC, did he choose to attack this decision. In an unholy alliance with the SWP and their front organisation the Right to Work (RTW) he hoped to put the NSSN in the dock before fellow trade unionists as unprincipled splitters and sectarians. This completely failed, not least because the accusers are, themselves, guilty of the ”crimes” they impute to the NSSN majority, and particularly to the Socialist Party.

"Those who voted in favour of an Anti-Cuts Campaign recognise that trade unions are already located in fighting cuts in the workplace, but that there are other aspects to the struggle. Community campaigns to save services are springing up everywhere. Witness the marvellous student rebellion of recent weeks. Those against these proposals believe that NSSN should step back, and leave leadership matters to other organisations, particularly like RTW".

"It is enough to remind ourselves that it was the SWP who launched the sectarian attack on the fire-fighters at the end of their recent dispute. As RTW, they also invaded the ACAS talks in the BA dispute, and were widely criticised by rank and file Unite members. In a similar sectarian fashion they attacked the Lindsey strikers, as well as the left-led PCS leadership - particularly its general secretary Mark Serwotka over the alleged pension “sell-out” (in 2005). It is they who set up RTW 18 months ago as a rival to the NSSN. In the London Student Assembly this week, they actually voted against supporting the January NSSN Conference but now say they want to build for it to 'save' the NSSN!"

If it seems strange to title this as a "reply to Dave Chapple" when his statement was signed by so many other people, what is even less acceptable is to fill out this reply with an indictment of the SWP. Dave Chapple is not a member of the SWP (indeed to anyone who knows Dave and his views, the idea of him being a stooge or even in an alliance, unholy or otherwise, seems bizarre). Looking at the rest of the names I see the president and one other member of my local trades council, neither of whom I'd remotely associate with the SWP; an anarcho-syndicalist brother from Greater Manchester whom I've known for years, first in the EPIU and now Unite; and three former members like me of the late Workers Revolutionary Party, one of whom I've known since we were both in the Young Socialists. Not very promising ground for the SWP, I'd say.

The reply continues:
"The NSSN Conference statement in June declared that NSSN should take our work into the wider community. Dave Chapple did not disagree. The October Steering Committee, which Dave Chapple chaired, built on this by agreeing, with only one vote against, to call an Anti-Cuts Conference.

Dave Chapple also accuses us of not wanting unity. This is a lie. It was RTW that split away from the NSSN last year, and then not clearly as an anti-cuts campaign. Actually, the NSSN was formed four years ago - originally as an initiative of the RMT transport workers union, well before either COR or RTW. Yet now he implies we are the splitters. We want unity in action, and will do our utmost to get that action".


Here's Linda Taaffe again:
"The purpose of this Conference is to put before shop stewards and workplace reps a proposal to set up a working class trade union based campaign that is able to intervene on a clear no-cuts programme in the forthcoming battles. The opponents of this idea want the NSSN to tail-end other organisations which do not have a consistent no-cuts policy. Moreover, these organisations do not allow democratic discussion and debate, as the NSSN has been able to do.

We are in favour of collaboration of all campaigns and the possibility of a unified struggle, but the authors of this statement do not. The NSSN was set up four years ago. Yet this did not stop the SWP from organising the separatist splitting Right to Work. Amazingly, these are the people who are now the apostles of unity alongside Dave Chapple".

This strikes me as that old method of Stalinist and other bureaucrats, whereby you appear to focus on one person as your enemy, then lump them together with others whom you find easier to attack, refusing to see a distinction - it's the amalgam technique. In this case, it's dishonest to even pretend that the SWP and the Socialist Party are the only serious contenders in the field, but as we saw in the Socialist Alliance, the Socialist Party walked out when it saw the SWP appearing to take control (thereby making what was liable a certainty), without bothering to consider us nonentities in between.

The Socialist Party members in the NSSN are on much better ground when they refer to the need for a working class-based campaign and the community campaigns that have already sprung up. Speaking from what I know, in Brent the trades union council is already working with Kilburn unemployed workers centre and local community groups, and joined students on a recent protest against Sarah Tether MP. There's a public meeting about the cuts with John McDonnell MP debating a Lib Dem at Willesden Green library, 7.30 tomorrow night.

In neighbouring Barnet and Ealing the trades councils are to the fore in anti-cuts campaigning, Islington TUC is working with local campaigners to defend the NHS, and Westminster TUC will be setting up its stall on the streets this weekend, to unite workers whose jobs are threatened by the cuts with people whose services are being taken from them. In Hillingdon, where there isn't a trades union council, trades unionists are involved in an anti-cuts campaign which might lead to one, and are anyway getting on with the job, with a lobby at the civic centre in Uxbridge tomorrow night (6,30pm).

Would it not make sense for the National Shop Stewards Network to help create a network of these genuine working class and community based initiatives, rather than competing with the SWP and former SWP to set up yet another top-down front? It has been said the Socialist Party's proposals risk splitting the anti-cuts campaign. I think the more immediate danger is they will, quite contrary to their intentions, split the National Shop Stewards Network. But there's still time to pause and think. And here is a call to do so, from someone whose viewpoint should count for something in this row:


Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am writing to urge maximum unity in the struggle against the Coalition government’s austerity programme.

Such is the scale of the onslaught against our class that no one should be in any doubt of the need for such unity.

There can be no question of any political party or organisation seeking to assume leadership of this struggle or setting up new national organisations that would create disunity.

Instead all our efforts should be devoted to mobilising all progressive forces and building the biggest and broadest possible movement against the cuts.

I would urge all comrades to take a step back and consider how we can best act in a way which helps achieve these aims.

Yours in unity

Bob Crow

RMT General Secretary

National Shop Stewards Network





12:00noon – 4:00pm

South Camden Community School

(By Euston Station)

Charrington Street, London NW1 1RG

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Sunday, January 09, 2011

Bringing it home to America

TARGETED by 'Tea Party' and Arizona assassin.
Gabrielle Giffords voted for health reform.

SIX people have died, including a nine year old girl and a Federal judge, and Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is in a critical condition after being shot in the head and having to undergo emergency brain surgery.
Doctors are not optimistic for her recovery.

Another thirteen people were wounded by the gunman who opened fire as the congresswoman was speaking to people outside a Safeways store in Tucson, Arizona. He might have got more had he not been wrestled to the ground by a brave woman aide to Cong.Giffords, as he was reloading.

The arrested attacker has been variously identified as an "Afghan war veteran" and a 22-year old whom the army had rejected for service. Either way he was bringing home to America the kind of bloodshed that its trigger-happy gunmen, whether troops or 'security' guards have inflicted in other countries. Not that shootings and assassinations are anything new to the United States.

But this was no random shooting 'spree' by a lone, crazed individual. There is no doubt that Gabrielle Giffords was his target, shot in the head at point blank range. Police are reportedly hunting a suspected accomplice who drove the killer into town.

At a press conference following the attack, the Pima County Sheriff, Clarence Dupnik, blamed political vitriol for fuelling the attack.

"People tend to pooh-pooh this business that we hear about all the vitriol we hear inflaming the American public by people who make a living doing that," he said. "That may be free speech – but there are consequences."

He said Arizona had become "a Mecca for prejudice and bigotry" and that "people who are unbalanced are especially susceptible to vitriol".

Congresswoman Giffords has been a target of the right-wing 'Tea Party' movement for her backing of health care reform and for her views on immigration control, embryonic stem-cell research and the right to abortion. Ironically she is also a strong supporter of the right to bear arms.

In March last year the congresswoman voted in favour of President Obama's healthcare reform, and that night someone shot up and destroyed the door to her office. She told an interviewer the following day that she wasn't fearful for her life, but that her opponents' rhetoric was becoming "incredibly heated". She was asked if the Republican leadership should have spoken out more to denounce the violence. Diplomatically, she said both parties should.

But then, she recounted how she was on Sarah Palin's hit list. "We have the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district," she said. "And when people do that, they've got to realise there are consequences."

In case we thought people like Palin were only using "targeting" as a metaphor for aiming politically, the way we do here, we need only recall the Tea Party's links with the firearms lobby, and that Tea Party members have spoken of using "Second amendment methods" if they don't succeed by the ballot box. The Second Amendment of the US constitution concerns the citizen's right to bear weapons.

Following up on Sarah Palin's list of targets, urging followers to "reload" and "aim" for the Democrats, Arizona Republican Jesse Kelly had a photo on his campaign events website of himself in his old Marine uniform holding a weapon. "Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly." The event cost $50.

    Now the gunsight for Congresswoman's target seat has been removed from Sarah Palin's map, and Jesse Kelly has apparently decided that with Gabrielle Giffords having been shot, and perhaps not surviving, it might not be in good taste to go ahead with the M16 contest.

Of course, contributing to an atmosphere where something like this could happen is not the same as conspiring for it. But these politicians and their advisers, and their friends in the right-wing media, know what is out there.

Gunman Jared Loughner may be a 'lone'. 'disturbed' individual with a 'troubled past' - have you noticed how often, when a shooting or bombing might be attributed to the right, we are told the perpetrator is a 'loner'? But views as eccentric or extreme as he might have held are increasingly sprouting out amid the mainstream Right. And though Loughner had come to the attention of the authorities, having expressed his views and threatened the congresswoman before, he was still on the street with a 9mm pistol.

This is the America that wants to teach the rest of the world democracy, or so it says. and has had its soldiers and the men from Blackwater out there laying down the citizens, if not the law. The America that claimed the right to kidnap "terror suspects" from around the world to incarcerate and torture in Guantanamo. But who will protect the rights and lives of American citizens from the extremism and terrorism of the American Right? Whatever the arguments about Obama, and the Sarah Palin jokes, maybe it is time to be forewarned, and forearmed.


Remembering a Murdered Editor

HRANT DINK, murdered four years ago in Istanbul. His enemies remain at large.
But his viewpoint continues to inspire.

THE lawyer for a Turkish editor gunned down in front of his newspaper four years ago says those who planned the murder may never be caught.

A teenage gunman and his accomplice are facing trial for the killing of Hrant Dink, who edited a Turkish-Armenian bilingual newspaper. But a stir was caused by the publication of a photograph of the accused youth with smiling policemen in front of a Turkish flag.

Interviewed by the daily Al Hurriyet, lawyer Cetin, who says she was with Hrant Dink when he was found guilty of insulting "Turkishness", under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, says that although he had defied death threats before, he was seriously worried a few days before his death that he was going to be targeted by assassins.

Cetin says those on trial were anti-social types from poor families. "The teenage gunman does not even know why he murdered Dink". But they saw themselves as heroes and believed they would be released after a minimum time in jail.

The lawyer is convinced a right-wing organisation called Ergenekon had planned the killing. A cache of hand grenades found in a retired army NCO's house in June 2007 were linked with Ergenekon. The organisation's hand had been seen in several bombings and assassinations, and plans for a coup in 2009. But some police bureaus had worked to conceal evidence.

"The Ergenekon gang is a deep organisation and as long as the true leaders remain free, the real instigators of Din's muder will never be captured."
(Hurriyet Daily News, January 9, 2011)

Though the killers succeeded in silencing an important voice for truth about the Armenian tragedy and a new understanding between Turks, Armenians and Kurdish people, they have failed to close Hrant Dink's vision or the inspiration it gave. Thousands marched in his honour after his death, and the anniversary is going to be marked by several events.

Information from Wikipedia:

Hrant Dink was born in Malatya on September 15, 1954, the eldest of three sons to Sarkis Dink (known as Haşim Kalfa), a tailor from Sivas_Province, and Gülvart Dink, from Sivas. His father's gambling debts led to the family's move to İstanbul in 1960. A year after their move, Dink's parents separated, leaving the seven-year old Dink and his brothers without a place to live. Dink's grandfather enrolled the boys at the Gedikpaşa Armenian Orphanage. The orphanage children spent their summers at the Tuzla Armenian Children's Camp, on the Marmara beachfront in a suburb of İstanbul, building and improving the summer camp during their stay. It was at the camp that Hrant met his future wife as a child and later married her . The government-led closing of the Camp in 1984 was one of the factors that raised Dink's awareness of the Armenian issue in Turkey, and led to his politicisation.

At Istanbul University, Hrant became a sympathizer of TİKKO, the armed faction of the Turkish Communist Party- Marxist-Leninist. His friend Armanek Bakırcıyan, who changed his name to Orhan Bakır, later rose in TİKKO to membership of the central committee, took part in armed struggle in Eastern Turkey and was killed during fighting in 1978.

Hrant's wife Rakel Yağbasan, whom he first met when she came to the Tuzla Armenian Children's Camp, was born in 1959, one of 13 children of Siyament Yağbasan, head of the Varto clan and Delal Yağbasan who died when Rakel was a child.

In 1915, the Varto clan had received orders to relocate along with the rest of the Armenian population in the region, but they were attacked during the journey. Five families from the clan escaped to nearby Mount Cudi and settled there, remaining without any contact to the outside world for 25 years. Eventually they re-established contact and largely assimilated into the nearby Kurdish population, speaking Kurdish exclusively, although they retained knowledge of their Armenian origin and Christian beliefs.

Staying at the Tuzla Camp during summers and at the Gedikpaşa Orphanage during winters, Rakel learned Turkish and Armenian, and finished primary school. Because she was registered as a Turk, not as an Armenian, she was not allowed to enroll at Armenian community schools and her father did not give permission for her to attend a Turkish school past 5th grade. Not able to obtain further formal schooling, Rakel was privately tutored by instructors at the Gedikpaşa Orphanage. At first her father opposed the marriage, but the young couple insisted

Having graduated from the university, Hrant Dink completed his military service, but whether for his Armenian background or his political record he was denied promotion, something which confirmed him in his activism. Back in Istanbul he and his brothers established a bookstore which became popular with students and expanded into a publishing business. After the 1980 military coup, when restrictions were placed on travel, one of Hrant's brothers was arrested for using false papers, and he himself was questioned about alleged links with Asala, a secret Armenian armed group.

Hrant Dink was one of the founders of Agos weekly, the only newspaper in Turkey published in Armenian and Turkish, and served as the editor-in-chief from its founding in 1996 until his death in 2007. Agos was born out of a meeting called by Patriarch Karekin II when Turkish media started linking Armenians of Turkey with the illegal Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) A picture of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan and an Assyrian priest appeared in a Turkish daily, with the caption "Here's proof of the Armenian-PKK cooperation".

The view at the meeting was that the Armenians in Turkey needed to communicate with the society at large. The group held a widely covered press conference, followed by monthly press events and eventually formed Agos. Dink had not been a professional journalist until founding Agos., though he had contributed occasional articles and book reviews to local Armenian language newspapers and corrections and letters to the editor to the national dailies.[21] He soon became well known for his editorials in Agos and also wrote columns in the national dailies Zaman and BirGün.[28]

Up to the founding of Agos, the Armenian community had two main newspapers, Marmara and Jamanak, both published only in Armenian. By publishing in Turkish as well as Armenian, Hrant Dink opened up the channels of communication to the society at large for the Armenian community. After Agos started its publication, the participation of Armenians in the political-cultural life in Turkey increased greatly, and public awareness in Turkey of the issues of the Armenians started to increase.[26] Always willing to speak on the issues faced by Armenians, Hrant Dink emerged as a leader in his community and became a well-known public figure in Turkey.

Under Hrant Dink's editorship, Agos concentrated on five major topics: Speaking against any unfair treatment of the Armenian community in Turkey, covering human rights violations and problems of democratization in Turkey, carrying news of developments in the Republic of Armenia, with special emphasis on the Turkey-Armenia relations, publishing articles and serials on the Armenian cultural heritage and its contributions to the Ottoman Empire and Turkey, criticizing malfunctions and non-transparency in the Armenian community institutions.

As a leftist activist, Hrant Dink often spoke and wrote about the problems of democratization in Turkey, defending other authors such as Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk and novelist Perihan Mağden who came under criticism and prosecution for their opinions. In a speech Hrant Dink delivered on May 19, 2006, at a seminar jointly organized in Antalya by the Turkish Journalists´ Association and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, he said:

"I think the fundamental problems in Turkey exist for the majority as well . Therefore, ..., I will speak for the majority, including myself in it and dwell on where, we, as Turkey, are headed."
Dink hoped his questioning would pave the way for peace between the two peoples:
"If I write about the [Armenian] genocide it angers the Turkish generals. I want to write and ask how we can change this historical conflict into peace. They don’t know how to solve the Armenian problem."
Active in various democratic platforms and civil society organizations, Hrant Dink emphasized the need for democratization in Turkey and focused on the issues of free speech, minority rights, civic rights and issues pertaining to the Armenian community in Turkey. He was a very important peace activist. In his public speeches, which were often intensely emotional, he never refrained from using the word genocide when talking about the Armenian Genocide, a term fiercely rejected by Turkey. At the same time, he was strongly critical of the strategy of the Armenian diaspora of pressuring Western governments into official recognition of the Genocide label.

Dink featured prominently in the 2006 genocide documentary film Screamers in which he explains:

"There are Turks who don't admit that their ancestors committed genocide. If you look at it though, they seem to be nice people… So why don't they admit it? Because they think that genocide is a bad thing which they would never want to commit, and because they can't believe their ancestors would do such a thing either."

Indicating that a show of empathy would have nothing to do with accepting or refusing the genocide, Dink called for dialogue:

Turkish-Armenian relations should be taken out of a 1915 meters-deep well."[26]

Dink was prosecuted three times for denigrating Turkishness under Article 301.

The first charge under the previous version of Article 301, then called Article 159, stemmed from a speech he delivered at a panel hosted by human rights NGO Mazlum-Der in Şanlıurfa on 14 February 2002.[39] Speaking at the "Global Security, Terror and Human Rights, Multiculturalism, Minorities and Human Rights" panel, Dink and another speaker, lawyer Şehmus Ülek, faced charges for denigrating Turkishness and the Republic.[40] In the speech, Dink had stated:

"Since my childhood, I have been singing the national anthem along with you. Recently, there is a section where I cannot sing any longer and remain silent. You sing it, I join you later. It is: Smile at my heroic race... Where is the heroism of this race? We are trying to form the concept of citizenship on national unity and a heroic race. For example, if it were Smile at my hard-working people..., I would sing it louder than all of you, but it is not. Of the oath I am Turkish, honest and hard-working, I like the 'honest and hard-working' part and I shout it loudly. The I am Turkish part, I try to understand as I am from Turkey."[41]
"Of course I'm saying it's a genocide, because its consequences show it to be true and label it so. We see that people who had lived on this soil for 4,000 years were exterminated by these events."



Saturday, 15 January 2011 at 7:30

Nevart Gulbenkian Hall, Iverna Gardens, W8 6TP

(Tube: High Street Kensington)

An informal event bringing together communities of neighbouring cultures.Please bring your favourite song, dish to pass, and friends.

Join Armenian–Turkish–Kurdish musicians in a New Year’s evening of singing and music–making to remember Hrant Dink (d. 19 January 2007). A short excerpt from “Heart of Two Nations”, prize–winning documentary by Nouritza Matossian will be screened.

Donation of £5 welcome to cover costs. Please confirm your attendance by email.

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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Higher Education at Grunwick

THE sad death of Mrs. Jayaben Desai, whose funeral took place on Friday, has brought forth more reminiscences and reflections on the Grunwick strike in northwest London, of which she was the best known face, and which was an important episode in the lives of many more besides the workers directly involved in fighting for their union rights.

There were more than five hundred arrests at Grunwick, and of course not all were as famous as then cabinet minister Shirley Williams, or miners' leader Arthur Scargill. Some magistrates boasted of handing out stiffer punishment to those arrested for activity around the strike. Sometimes the consequences lasted well after any fines or custody. A south London friend of mine suspected years afterwards that he was being unfairly kept out of certain jobs, or overlooked when it came to promotion. He thought his troubles seemed to have started after his arrest at Grunwick. But it was not until after he went to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg some two decades after that he obtained confirmation that he was on a civil service blacklist.

Another friend of mine, who had been a student at the time of the strike, recalls how, coming from a fairly sheltered, respectable middle class home, he got educated about the police by something he witnessed in connection with the battles at Grunwick. 'This fellow was arguing with the landlord of a pub nearby, I think he just wanted him to let him in to use the toilets. A policeman came up and arrested him, and the guy appealed to any of us to be witnesses. When it came to court I was amazed by some of the police evidence'. According to the arresting officer, the accused had been leading a mob down Dudden Hill Lane, chanting 'Kill the Pigs' and similar exhortations.

Although we have talked before about how other trades unionists rallied to the cause of the Grunwick workers, we should not forget the students who saw this as a battle for decency and justice, and found themselves getting a crash course in the nature of the state and injustice. A report in a student paper at the time says 'The police Special Patrol Group were there, carrying out their standard 'snatch squad' technique to soften up the crowd by swooping in to make random and brutal arrests'.

The student reporter saw them swoop on a person standing next to a fellow student, Chris, who in common with others, instinctively put out his arm to try and protect the person being attacked. Next thing was Chris himself was grabbed, and punched and kicked by several coppers as he was dragged away.

As it happens, I've contacted this Chris, who recalls:

'On one occasion I was pulled out of the crowd and surrounded by police who were kicking me before I was led off to a waiting van and taken to Willesden Green Police Station I think it was. I first appeared at Barnet magistrates court charged with – I think – a breach of the peace. Despite ridiculously contradictory evidence from the police I was found guilty and fined £50 with £20 costs. Due to the police evidence I was advised to appeal and appeared at Knightsbridge Crown Court. At this hearing it was suggested that I “fought my way through lines of police six deep and must have assaulted 3 dozen policemen” !!!!!

My conviction was upheld and my sentence was increased to 21 days imprisonment which I served at HMP Pentonville.'

Apparently, the arresting officer who gave evidence at Barnet said he had seen Chris with fist raised in the air, shouting 'Scabs', Scabs', 'Kill the Scabs' 'Get the bastards off the bus'. A second officer testified that the accused had fought his way through lines of police and been too violent for them to stop him, while at the appeal hearing a fresh police witness, a commander, said Chris had assaulted between two and three dozen police before he was arrested. No wonder this young man was described as one of the most violent figures at Grunwick.

Fortunately, his prison sentence, criminal record and violent reputation does not seem to have badly affected Chris's subsequent career in the real world, where he has continued caring for others, as he did at Grunwick. '. I continued with my studies including a placement as a Probation Officer. I subsequently worked with young offenders in alternatives to custody before going overseas with Save the Children for 10 years working in Uganda and Rwanda, Bosnia and Kosovo'. After further work for Save the Children and VSO, he now has a senior post in an important children's health charity.

As for his experience all those years ago at Grunwick:

'I had been a great believer in the great British justice system – but my own experience gave me first hand experience of how corrupt it actually is. I do believe that most policemen and women are decent human beings and do a very valuable job. However in those situations they seem to change completely and their tactics seem designed to provoke conflict. I think they need to do some marketing and some cultural change needs to happen within. The police should be there to protect and help the demonstrators legal rights to protest.

'In my work I have to have CRB checks and recently when mine came back clear I rang them and said did they know I had a conviction – they replied that it was so long ago and not relevant.

'I was pleased to see some student activism recently although not the more violent aspects. I hope that such experience will politicize them and they will engage in other political activity – and not just for themselves'.

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